Ocean Week at Solana Santa Fe crosses multiple subjects, ocean habitats

Solana Santa Fe School students were deeply submerged in Ocean Week May 29 through June 2 as the whole school transformed into an ocean laboratory of discovery and exploration. On Wednesday of Ocean Week, students on campus were learning about a variety of different marine environments from sandy shores to tidepools to the open ocean. In the multi-use room, Ocean Adventure’s arctic explorers Wayne and Karen Brown were sharing their adventures with polar bears as fourth grade students in the STREAM lab dissected squids.

In the library filled with sculptures and artwork the students had created of various sea life, UC San Diego shark expert Andy Nosal spoke about shark conservation. Nosal explained that 100 million sharks are killed every year from overfishing and finning, which has led the shark population to decline by 90 percent.

STREAM coordinator Neal Taunt said the message of the week is “It’s One Ocean,” educating students that what they do on land affects the ocean and the importance of conservation and sustainability efforts.

Ocean Week art by fifth grader Michelle DiFrancesco.
Ocean Week art by fifth grader Michelle DiFrancesco. (Karen Billing)

Nosal shared a quote from environmentalist Baba Dioum that summed it up perfectly: “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.”

Ocean Week has been going on at Solana Santa Fe 23 years and represents a united focus across all subjects and grade level teams.

All of the school’s STREAM (Science, Technology, Research, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) come together to form a truly integrated education model. As an example, as the fifth graders learn about the open ocean they will make a stop motion video about the science of sharks in their technology lab and make sharks out of clay in art.

For the closing ceremony of Ocean Week on June 2, the entire school heard from marine biologist Allison Randolph (“Ocean Allison”), a research scientist who will be conducting work in the Gulf of Mexico with underwater exploration robots to see the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. More than just an assembly, students will get to follow up on her work in real time with Skype sessions in the coming weeks.

The school’s PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) funds all of the Ocean Week discovery labs and guest speakers for all grade levels, and all of the education is right on target with California’s Next Generation Science Standards. The standards, still in development, are expected to be ready for implementation this coming fall but the Solana Beach School District has been ahead of the game, implementing many STEM standards over the last three years. The district started writing the curriculum that matched the Next Generation Science Standards and added the R for research and A for arts.

This kind of full integration of subjects doesn’t just happen during Ocean Week at Solana Santa Fe. Taunt said their focus is always to emphasize STREAM subjects with project-based learning and hands-on curriculum, allowing students to develop real-life solutions to real-life problems through collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

“With the experiences of project-based learning, the child is way more interested and involved,” Taunt said. “It’s not just taking a multiple choice test and memorizing information that they will quickly forget. The real learning is in the depth and complexity. You can’t buy this program, it’s something we’re writing as we go.”