WHAT FLOATS YOUR BOAT?
A STUDY OF OPEN-WATER
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS
A Thesis Presented
Matthew F. Witten
to the Faculty of the Graduate College of
The University of Vermont
CONDENSED VERSION May, 2001
Published to the Ships to Save the Waters 2001 web page with permission. Contact Matt Witten at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. He is at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Huntington, VT at 802-434-3236.
Open-Water Environmental Education (OWEE) is an interactive learning program usually including ecology, history, and navigation, and hosting a group of students on one or more vessels plying a body of water. Organizations charged with protecting bodies of water seek ways to educate the public about the ecology and conservation of those waters. More information about the unexplored field of Open-Water Environmental Education may provide necessary guidance to conservation organizations interested in starting an OWEE program.
This study characterizes the Open-Water Environmental Education field in the United States. Through interviews, field observations, and a mail survey, I discerned some strong similarities among OWEE programs, as well as other defining characteristics. The principal key features that most surveyed OWEE programs had in common were: non-profit status; interdisciplinary curriculum; interaction with live biota; water quality monitoring; ownership of at least one boat; and, 2-4-hour trips. The key features that distinguished one group of programs from another group were: use of vessels that are historical replicas; number of vessels; government affiliation; and, degree of collaboration with schools. The analysis of these key features offers some clear models of program types to new or developing programs.
To the crew of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater:
"That someday, though maybe not this
my country will run clear."
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Statement of Opportunity *
Definition of Terms and Analysis of Scope *
Study Objectives *
The Theoretical Framework for Open-Water Environmental Education *
Overview of the Tradition of Experiential Education *
Themes Relating to Experiential Education *
Implications for Open-Water Environmental Education *
Observing Programs and Interviewing Directors *
Results and Discussion *
Clear Models *
Common Key Features *
Distinguishing Key Features *
Testing the Corollary *
Clear Choices *
Other Options and Decisions *
Procedural Issues *
Program Strengths *
Need for Future Study *
Need for a Directory of OWEE Programs *
Need for a "How-to" Handbook *
Steps for a Lake Champlain Program *
Appendix B: Mail Survey Instrument *
Appendix C: Summary Statistics *
Appendix D: Salient Points in Written Comments on Surveys *
Appendix E: Table of Fee Structures *
Appendix F: Directory of Studied Programs *
Appendix G: Photographs of Student Activities on Board *
List of Tables
Table 1: Summary of Responses to Question #1 of the Mail Survey: Subjects Taught *
Table 3: Dichotomous Divisions of some OWEE Program Features *
Table 4: Results of Chi-squared Tests of Independence Using Variables Related to Curriculum *
Table 5: Results of Chi-squared Tests of Independence Using Variables Related to Boat Logistics and Administration *
Table 6: Months of Operation for Programs in the North and South *
Table 7: Summary Statistics *
Table 8: Fee Structures Described on Mail Surveys *
Like most researchers, I am drawn to my field by personal interest. In December, 1985, I spent a month working on the "winter maintenance" crew of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, which was docked in Saugerties, NY. The weeks of bundling up and drinking hot ginger tea as we cleaned the bilge, did a rot survey of the hull, and accomplished other tasks in the cold, did not deter me from seeing how the boat fostered a community of woodworkers, educators, musicians, cooks, kids, parents, and river-lovers. I was hooked.
In subsequent years, I worked as apprentice and then as crew on the Clearwater as it took thousands of school children out on the Hudson River and on Long Island Sound. On two three-hour sails per day, we involved teenagers in raising the giant mainsail, fishing with a trawl net, singing songs, analyzing the dissolved oxygen content of river water, looking at plankton under microscopes, discussing environmental issues, and steering with the long oaken tiller. African-American, Hispanic American, Asian American, and many other kinds of American children flocked to the boat in buses. In the evening, the same variety of folk would come down to run their gaze over the rigging, lean back to look high at the mast, and ask us what it was like to live on a boat.
My involvement with the Clearwater convinced me of the tremendous potential of Open-Water Environmental Education programs. Teenagers can be "tragically cool" and difficult to impress in many formal settings, but my experiences on the Clearwater demonstrated that hands-on sailing, biology, navigation, and chemistry have the power to stimulate interest in almost every middle- and high-school student. The combination of open space, the unfamiliar movements of the boat, the hauling on a coarse rope to raise the sail, and the slimy feel of fish caught in the trawl net, was too new and odd (or, in a few cases, delightfully familiar) for the students to be apathetic. They often hated some things about the experience and loved others one way or another, this meant they were engaged with the experience. This engagement of the senses opened them up to lessons about the importance of the estuarine environment.
In the late 1980s, I moved to the Lake Champlain area and was surprised that no program existed on the Lake to take school children out on a regular basis. Here and there, schools did sporadic outings, but, in general, there was no regular, professionally staffed program established for the purposes of taking out students on the open water of Lake Champlain. I was determined to bring Open-Water Environmental Education to the lake.
Potential Contribution of Chosen Study
I spoke with various Lake Champlain-related organizations about the deficit of school programs on the lake, and several were enthused about the idea, but also cautious. They had some important questions: Can we obtain insurance and would the cost be too high? What kind of boat would work best? What organizations should be involved? Who would pay to run the program and how? I realized these questions would have to be researched before a program could be launched.
I also knew that Open-Water Environmental Education (OWEE) programs were starting up on Puget Sound, the Great Lakes, and other parts of the country. This suggested to me that there was much to learn from these programs. The emergence of new OWEE programs also suggested to me that there are probably hundreds of educational and conservation institutions in lake, coastal, and estuarine regions that would likely be interested in starting their own open-water program. I realized such institutions could benefit from my research.
Statement of Opportunity
The research I planned capitalizes on the following two opportunities and needs:
Definition of Terms and Analysis of Scope
For the purposes of this research, Open-Water Environmental Education is defined as:
I use the term "open-water" to mean programs on boats that leave the dock and take students out on a body of water which is large enough to provide access to views, waters, and sensations that would not be possible on foot, on a bus, or other mode of transportation. A program on a wadeable stream or pond does not qualify, because theses small waters are accessible by foot, because the experience of standing at the edge of these waters is not substantially different from standing in their midst, and finally, because the ecosystem is relatively similar between edge and middle. A program leading students on foot to the shore of one the Great Lakes does not qualify because the littoral ecosystem is radically different from the deep-water ecosystem, and because the experiences at these two places are also utterly different.
My use of the term "Environmental Education" may diverge from some common definitions of the field. One definition of environmental education offered by William Stapp is: "Environmental education is aimed at producing a citizenry that is knowledgeable concerning the biophysical environment and its associated problems, aware of how to help solve those problems, and motivated to work toward their solution"(Wilke, 1993). This definition appears to emphasize a product rather than a process, the product being knowledgeable, aware, and motivated citizens. Stapp also seems to advocate a predominantly problem-solving approach to the environment, rather than an approach of understanding natural history.
For my purposes, environmental education must encourage the growth of students awareness of, curiosity about, and familiarity with the environment and peoples relationship to it. This definition is more in keeping with the thinking of Howard T. Odum: "The real challenge in environmental education is to substitute the principles of harmonious systems and humanitys role as a member for the notions of the environment as an external thing" (Bakshi & Naveh, 1980). Engagement with the environment, rather than removal from it, should be fostered.
The open-water programs I studied seemed to vary widely in how they viewed their type of education. Some programs stated, like Stapp, that the aim of Open-Water Environmental Education is to motivate students to be aware of environmental problems and how to solve them. Others emphasized the hands-on science that they were teaching. Most programs did not seem to have a narrow sense of their educational purpose, but taught several subjects, usually including biology, history, and ecology, as well as environmental studies.
My impression is that the open-water programs I studied fit the most literal definition of education in and about the environment. The environment, as defined in the Random House Dictionary is: "the aggregate of surrounding things, conditions, and influences" (Stein & Su, 1978). Environmental education, seen from this perspective, is education about the aggregate physical surroundings on a boat the wind, the boat itself, the forests across the lake, the water flowing by, the things floating or jumping in the water, and the things we pull up from the water. Under this definition, the study of an historic mill or fort at waters edge is included, as is a factory or freighter within view or earshot. The emphasis is on helping students become aware of the wealth of sensory input on the open water, and to begin to observe and question what they perceive.
Open-Water Environmental Education programs generally have the following characteristics.
During my research, I used these characteristics as criteria for my definition of OWEE programs. If a program did not meet these criteria, I generally excluded it from my research.
I excluded semester-at-sea programs because they provide much more comprehensive experiences for students than the mostly half-day or one-day programs I studied. Semester-at sea programs reach very limited numbers of students each year, and are expensive because of the costs of room, board, and the very specialized equipment needed for ocean travel.
My intention was to focus on programs that can be utilized by organizations on relatively moderate-sized bodies of water (compared to oceans). Such programs have the potential to reach the majority of students attending school in a lakes or rivers watershed at a reasonable cost. Four of the 25 programs whose surveys I accepted, however, were multiple-day programs rather than programs designed to be accomplished in a single day.
Although OWEE programs exist in other countries, and certainly valuable information could be gleaned from them, the constraints of time, cost, and language prevented me from studying these programs. All the programs surveyed and observed are in the United States.
The overall goals of my research were to determine whether Open-Water Environmental Education is a definable field of education with its own discrete characteristics and, if so, to characterize OWEE programs in a way that can inform other organizations that hope to start such programs.
The objectives of this study were to:
Although the literature lacks information about Open-Water Environmental Education in general, there is substantial data and information about marine and freshwater-related curricula. Therefore, this study focuses largely on administrative and logistical aspects of OWEE, rather than curriculum content. The purpose of examining the administrative and logistical characteristics of OWEE is to provide new and existing programs with some examples and trends that may guide their own practical decisions. Curriculum was studied only to the extent that being on a boat or boats influences its structure and content.
Framework for Open-Water
Most generally, OWEE is a kind of experiential education. I use "experiential" in a broad sense, meaning that the programs recognize the importance of the experiences that individual students will have while they are on the open water. Although some abstract concepts may be taught or discussed, all the OWEE programs I studied focus primarily on interactive, sensory, discovery-based activities that are directly available on board. This chapter deals largely with the genesis of this type of education, and some of the theories regarding its mechanisms.
Historical and Philosophical Context
Starting with the specialization of peoples functions within society, usually attributed by anthropologists to the development of agriculture, education evolved as a discrete activity. Before that time, we imagine that learning was an integral part of the hunting, gathering, constructing, traveling, and other activities that human groups undertook. As we can see in some non-technological societies and animal aggregations, teaching and learning can be aspects of the necessary tasks and responses of the day.
The ancient cultures, including Egyptian, Mayan, Chinese, Hebrew, and Greek societies, practiced more structured types of education, often involving teaching removed from the activity that was the subject of the lesson. In common terms, this education was what we might call "book-learning." Without entering deeply into the issues of the rise of highly organized religions, of republics, and of industries, let it be said that in the Western tradition during the centuries since the Renaissance, education has largely been aimed at serving these rising institutions. Initially educators groomed an elite to direct these institutions, and, as of the 19th and 20th centuries, education has also been designed to train an orderly and useful workforce and instill in citizens some civic responsibility.
Classical thinkers such as Aristotle and Plato viewed education as a tool for the betterment of the state (Noddings, 1995). The ancient Greek world view did not include the notion of self-improvement for ones own sake, nor of children enjoying childhood for its own sake. To Aristotle and Plato, each of us has a purpose that an education ideally helps to manifest, and the best (or only) realization of this purpose is in the context of its function in the community, or state. It was a teachers job to form the student into this useful manifestation. These ideas still have a powerful influence on our educational system; the striving for excellence and service are eternal themes in our discussions of education in the United States.
As the industrial age hit its stride in the 18th and 19th centuries, the plight of children began to be publicized (for example, by Charles Dickens), and a new view of education began to emerge. This new view would have a profound impact on the classical traditions. The great Enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau introduced to the Western world the notion that children should be allowed their freedom and happiness instead of simply being molded into useful adults. "Let childhood ripen in children," said Rousseau in Emile, his treatise on education (1762/1974, p.94). Rousseau placed emphasis on encouraging children to follow their curiosity and teaching them what they need to learn only when they become ready to learn it (Noddings, 1995). This was a far cry from the contemporary form of rigid, uniform education. Rousseau also recommended that subjects be taught first-hand, not abstractly: "Never substitute the sign for the thing" (1762/1974, p.170). Rousseaus suggestion that students not be constrained to the classroom was revolutionary for his time.
In the context of the Western world (for we can myopically forget that many cultures have always allowed their children hands-on, experiential learning), then, Rousseau helped generate the current school of thought that treats the experience of the child as an essential part of education. Other historical and philosophical trends of the 19th and 20th centuries have also contributed to this view, which probably would have seemed absurd to classical thinkers. The teachings of Freud and subsequent psychologists focused on the psychology of the child, as well as the major paradigm shift in western scientific thought influenced by the theory of quantum mechanics, both have contributed to the "modern," or perhaps "postmodern," validation of the primacy of the experience of the individual. Existential philosophy also contains some of the seeds of experience-based education.
Perhaps the leading torchbearer of this emerging trend in education was John Dewey. Although Dewey came to be criticized for his so-called "child-centered" approach to education, rather than a "curriculum-centered" approach, he actually advocated a compromise between the two. Dewey was an outspoken proponent of incorporating experience into formal subject matter and vice-versa: "[There is a] need for reinstating into experience the subject-matter of the studies, or branches of learning. It must be restored to the experience from which it has been abstracted" (Dewey, 1959, p.104). Dewey considered the promotion of human development to be the essential aim of education, and recommended that education should therefore be based on personal experiences (Mosher, 1995).
As a complement to the position that childhood experiences (involving freedom and initiative) be part of learning, Dewey recommended that teachers be guides rather than controlling authorities. Guidance, said Dewey, "is freeing the life-process for its own most adequate fulfillment" (Dewey, 1959, p.101).
In this statement, Dewey reveals his existentialist leanings. Existentialist thinkers reject the classical notion of a "pre-formed human nature that can be used to guide education" (Noddings, 1995). Existentialists emphasize the importance of individual human choice. For example, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote: "Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself" (Noddings, 1995, p.60).
John Dewey thought that human knowledge was not so much a reflection of any absolute truth, but "an arranged and orderly view of previous experiences [which] serves as a guide to future experience" (Dewey, 1959, p.103). He wrote that knowledge, i.e., "the logically formulated material of a science or branch of learning," was analogous to "a map that is drawn after a country has been thoroughly explored " (Dewey, 1959, p.103). The map gives direction and economizes efforts of travelers. "The map orders individual experiences," but it "is not a substitute for a personal experience" (Dewey, 1959, p. 102).
Although I will not attempt to draw a line of cause and effect between modern physics and the thought of John Dewey, I do believe that the position of many physicists has created a climate in which it is easy to talk about the relevance of personal experience as opposed to absolute truth. In his book about modern physics, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Gary Zukav writes that in the early part of the twentieth century, physicists began to see that subatomic events could not be determined accurately, and even began to suspect that they were creating sub-atomic particles by the process of testing for them (1979). In 1927, a convention of physicists in Europe grappled with the question of what quantum mechanics describes. This question had arisen because physicists had discovered that quantum physics could not predict the paths or locations of individual electrons, but could describe overall behavior precisely (Zukav, 1979). The prevailing group at the convention decided that, "It does not matter what quantum mechanics is about. The important thing is that it works" (Zukav, 1979, p.62). Zukav summarizes how this pragmatism was reflected by some scientists (e.g., Henry Pierce Stapp and William James) of the time: "Whether or not something is true is not a matter of how closely it corresponds to the absolute truth, but of how consistent it is with our experience" (1979, p.63). The rebuff of objective reality that this statement reflects is still reverberating through modern life, and has probably enabled the focus on the experience of the student as well as the researcher.
Overview of the Tradition of Experiential Education
In his book, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, David Kolb (1984) describes how three thinkers (or, lines of thought) in the 20th century have shaped what we now call "experiential education." The three principal thinkers are John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Kurt Lewin. While defining the differences among the ideas of these three thinkers, Kolb also finds that the three have much in common regarding experiential education.
The experiments and writings of Jean Piaget have influenced the concept of experiential education, as well as education as a whole (Kolb, 1984). Piaget described how children pass through several stages of cognitive development: sensory-motor; semiotic function; concrete operations of thought; and, formal thought (Kolb, 1984). "Piagets theory describes how intelligence is shaped by experience," from infancy to adolescence (Kolb, 1984, p.12). The work of Piaget establishes the importance of action in the development of intelligence in children. The "action" that Piaget refers to appears to be a result of will. The child acts upon objects and learns according to the resistance or compliance those objects have to his or her will. In the process of learning through activity, the child "transforms reality by assimilation to the needs of the self" (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969, p.58). Piaget says the child also accommodates (through imitation) to external models of reality, in accordance with Piagets belief that, "Intelligence constitutes an equilibrium between assimilation and accommodation" (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969, p.58).
Influenced by existentialist and postmodern thought, in the late 1940s Kurt Lewin held discussions about group behavior in which the subjects themselves participated in the analysis (Kolb, 1984). In these discussions, "The discovery was made that learning is best facilitated in an environment where there is dialectic tension and conflict between immediate, concrete experience and analytic detachment" (Kolb, 1984, p.9). Counter to the traditional scientific notion of knowledge acquisition as a totally logical process based on detached, objective observation, Lewin proposed that "feelings as well as thoughts are facts" (Kolb, 1984, p.11).
Kolb writes that John Deweys model of experiential education includes the ideas of experience as an organizing focus for learning, and the development of the individual toward a purpose. Kolb says that Dewey believed that the point of education is "to develop the ability to act purposefully instead of impulsively," and that the way to achieve this goal is to create a balance of awakening in students the desire to act and encouraging the use of the intellectual powers of observation, knowledge, and judgment that give that desire direction (Kolb, 1984, p.22).
Common to all three of these thinkers on experiential learning, writes Kolb, "is the emphasis on development toward a life of purpose and self-direction as the organizing principle of education" (Kolb, 1984, p.18). Kolb further observes that there are several propositions that each of the three "traditions" of experiential learning would support:
Themes Relating to Experiential Education
To help pin down the kind of experiential education that I consider in this thesis, I will discuss a few themes treated by educators and cognitive psychologists. These themes are strands of ideas that are tied to the notion of experiential education. Among the strands of thought that contribute to issues surrounding experiential education, I have chosen strands that relate especially to Open-Water Environmental Education - a type of program that is interactive, diverse, and oriented largely toward the sciences. Some of the themes that appear applicable to Open-Water Environmental Education are: agency, multiple intelligences, the discovery method, and situated learning.
James Russell interprets Piagets emphasis on self-motivated action as supporting the idea that "agency" is essential to the development of intelligence. Russell defines agency as: "the ability to alter at will ones perceptual inputs - motorically or attentionally" (Russell, 1996, p.3). In other words, agency is self-regulation of what one confronts, whether it be through what one chooses to act upon or to focus upon. Russell distinguishes those who see agency as a primary mental function from those who see "representation" as the primary mental function. Representational theorists, he says, claim the child creates and adapts to symbols (especially language) that structure her thoughts, and that agency is not a necessary condition for developing this structure. Russell argues that representation cannot account for beliefs. Beliefs "involve a commitment to the truth of ones mental representation," and this commitment itself is not a representation but a product of will or agency (Russell, 1996).
In practical terms, I take the significance of Piagets emphasis on action and Russells on agency to be the need for students to have some choice in what they learn and how they go about learning it. If educational material is pre-chosen by teachers, and if the teachers mode of presentation is the only way to have access to the material, the student is less likely to be an agent of his own learning than in a situation where he can exercise more choice. The student probably needs to have some choice over whether he reads about butterflies or bison, and over whether he learns from a male sailor coiling a rope or a female captain explaining compass directions using a nautical chart.
Although the theory of multiple intelligences is not necessarily linked to experiential education (it can apply to a formal classroom environment), the theory has strong implications for experiential education and dovetails well with the methods experiential education often employs. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, as described by Howard Gardner, states that humans have several separate mental capacities rather than "one flexible intelligence" (Gardner, 1983, p.xii). In Western educational systems, students are usually taught and tested for predominantly two intelligences - logical-mathematical and linguistic - while the five others are marginalized (Gardner, 1983). The seven intelligences formulated by Gardner are: linguistic, logical-mathematical (the two focused on in schools), musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal (1983).
The implications of Gardners influential ideas are quite apparent: it is important for educational institutions to offer lessons and activities that appeal to various intelligences if we are to enable students to realize their potential. Gardner also speaks of "ways of learning," which are related to the intelligences (1983, p.334). Direct learning and imitation, he writes, are both observational (or, in situ) ways of learning; spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and interpersonal intelligences are "at a premium," and linguistic intelligence is "incidental" in this setting. In "outside the context" instruction, e.g., in the classroom setting, the opposite is true of the intelligences that come into play (Gardner, 1983, p.335). In the setting of Open-Water Environmental Education (as well as other experiential educational programs), the opportunities for appealing to different intelligences and different ways of learning abound.
Learning by Discovery
Apparently in the 1960s, the idea of "learning by discovery" became a panacea for some educators. Learning by discovery is generally thought to be a process of "search and selection" that involves the posing of hypotheses and the subsequent testing of these hypotheses by the child (Shulman & Keislar, 1966, p.136). The idea seems closely related to that of agency, for the self-directing or self-regulation of the student assumes primary importance in both concepts of learning. In a 1966 series of essays by educational theorists including Jerome S. Bruner and Robert M. Gagne, the "Discovery Method" of teaching is critiqued. The authors criticize the method as an excuse for a lack of subject content and minimizing classroom preparation. The discovery method is also criticized for ignoring the basic human need to pass on culture, which is not a matter of discovery, but of training and imitation (Shulman & Keislar, 1966).
The essayists, however, cite ways in which discovery learning can work well. Jerome S. Bruner writes in his essay, "Some Elements of Discovery," that so-called discovery learning may not be pure discovery by the student, but rather "discovery learning guided by an accessible model" (Shulman & Keislar, 1966, p.102). Bruner emphasizes the function of models passed on from teacher to learner, and he states that the discovery method is "not so much the process of leading students to discover what is out there, but, rather, their discovery of what is in their own heads....There are implicit models in their heads which are useful" (Shulman & Keislar, 1966, p.105). The process of posing and testing hypotheses is an aspect of discovery learning that involves the interaction with pre-existing mental models.
Robert M. Gagne in his essay "Varieties of Learning and the Concept of Discovery" defines discovery as a combination of "search and selection," and argues that elements of this two-step process exist in verbal associations and concept learning (Shulman & Keislar, 1966, p.136). Gagne contrasts discovery with "reception," and asks whether learning principles via discovery is better than via reception. Although learning by discovery may be slower than by reception, "retention and transferability" may be better. Therefore, Gagne recommends "guided discovery," which cuts down on time spent on the search, but still allows for selection to occur (Shulman & Keislar, 1966, pp.144-150).
The idea of "situated learning" is apparently rooted in the concept of apprenticeship, which takes for its model a common educational relationship that exists in what some might term "pre-industrial" societies (Lave & Wenger, 1991). As in Gardners description of "observational learning," interpersonal intelligence and other intelligences besides linguistic and logical-mathematical come into play when an apprentice learns from the example of the master. Some educational thinkers have a term for the learning that takes place from the point of view of the apprentice; this is "legitimate peripheral participation." Legitimate peripheral participation is the idea that, "Learners inevitably participate in communities of practitioners and that the mastery of knowledge and skill requires newcomers to move toward full participation in the sociocultural practices of a community" (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p.29).
Situated learning is roughly likened to what happens in an apprenticeship, but includes a broad range of educational experiences. It emphasizes the personal relationship between mentor and student. The theory maintains that young "newcomers" can "engage in a common, structured pattern of learning experiences without being taught, examined, or reduced to mechanical copiers of everyday...tasks," and yet nevertheless can become highly skilled (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p.30). This idea especially echoes other thinkers I have discussed here, i.e., the concept of agency in Piaget and Russell.
Implications for Open-Water Environmental Education
The ideas about experiential education and other related developmental phenomena help define Open-Water Environmental Education as a type of experiential education. Perhaps more importantly, these same ideas suggest how Open-Water Environmental Education is a worthy educational activity.
Aside from the obvious notion that a field trip on a boat is a more striking experience than sitting in a classroom, Open-Water Environmental Education fits some of Kolbs propositions regarding experiential education. Sailing upon a body of water and interacting with the boat and the water is nothing if it is not a "holistic process of adaptation to the world." The students are thrust into a situation where thinking is only one faculty that will come into play; perception and feeling will probably have as much or more impact on them on the day of their field trip. For example, the great distances that are often visible on the water, the swaying of the boat, and the splash of cold water on their hands probably make vivid impressions. Although one boat trip on a lake or estuary will not ensure their adaptations to all situations, students will undergo an intense adaptation due to the inherent risks of being on a boat. This type of trip forces students to use all of their faculties to adapt very quickly to their surroundings.
Open-Water Environmental Education, especially when students have been well prepared for the trip, also offers a powerful tool for students to evaluate their expectations versus their experiences. Before their field trip, students will usually study aquatic ecology, some seafaring lore, and perhaps some concepts in physics and chemistry that relate to navigation and the nature of water. This will form in their minds some expectations about their upcoming open-water field trip, and these expectations may be radically different from what they actually experience while out on the water. The elements of danger, surprise, and face-to-face encounters with live aquatic creatures will likely generate a vacillation between the familiar and the unfamiliar that is a catalyst for integrating new ideas or modifying old ones (Kolb, 1984).
Open-Water Environmental Education also comprises the styles of education that Russell, Lave and Wenger, Gardner, and the critics of the discovery method write about. My observations of Open-Water Environmental Education indicate that agency, situated learning, multiple intelligences, and discovery learning are eminently supported by this kind of program.
Although there are some strict rules that students must obey while they sail on the water, and their attention is directed by educators in various ways, all Open-Water Environmental Programs appear to allow enough time and flexibility for students to follow their own curiosities. Usually there is a program of activities that all students follow, but the individual student frequently has a great deal of leeway in choosing the activities and educators on which she concentrates. In other words, the students choice, and thus agency, tends to direct the learning she experiences while on board.
Sailing, fishing, and navigating have the unique advantage of being traditional arts that have for millennia been the sites of apprenticeships. While such apprenticeships have become rare in our culture, the "legitimate peripheral participation" considered to be the essence of apprenticeship (or, situated learning) is a force in Open-Water Environmental Education. The awe and respect that captains and sailors engender in youngsters is hard to miss on board a vessel. The skills that these accomplished people practice may seem highly specialized or out-dated, but in fact sailing (or just navigating) requires a diverse set of skills that are applicable in a large number of practical situations.
When students are asked to help plot a course (or simply "find where we are"), to help pull in a fish net, to test a water sample for its pH, or to help raise a sail, they come in direct contact with role models who are not testing the students but rather encouraging them to participate. The students participation may not be entirely "peripheral," because Open-Water Environmental Programs often try to give students some "ownership" in the task at hand. It creates a relationship between a newcomer and old-timer that involves the attention of the whole person rather than a mere reception of facts (Lave & Wenger, 1991). When the captain asks a student to help her turn the wheel to help steer the boat, or an educator leans over the side to read a Secchi disk with a student, or a bearded second mate has students help him sort and measure the hundreds of fish from the trawl net, students are absorbing information, skills, and manners from their mentors.
To express a similar concept in different terms, Open-Water Environmental Education employs interpersonal intelligence, spatial intelligence, and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence as well as logical-mathematical and linguistic intelligences. In fact, these two latter intelligences often take a back seat to the former three intelligences aboard the boat program. This can be termed a "holistic" experience, as Kolb described it, but to the less conventional intelligences (in our culture, at any rate), Open-Water Environmental Education also enables experiential learning not fostered in the classroom to take place. A child may relate to (i.e., feel, perceive, think about) a subject on a boat that she may not have truly experienced at all in a less varied environment.
Finally, Open-Water Environmental Education affords a quintessential opportunity for discovery learning. As our essayists on the discovery method warned, it is not wise to turn students loose and let them discover whatever they will. A boat program, indeed, offers the perfect platform for "guided" discovery. Safety rules must be strictly observed. The students understand this and almost always comply, in my experience. Furthermore, the rigid boundaries and limited space that a boat inherently provides are methods of guidance in themselves; a certain amount of presence and attention are practically a given (not to be fooled by the languid and bored airs of high-schoolers!). The exciting (and usually rather tightly scheduled) activities that take place also serve to guide the discovery that occurs in students.
Within this context of guidance, students must go through a process of search and selection, partly because there is so much occurring before their eyes. They must choose where to focus, usually because the staff asks a lot of questions about what is unfolding before them. Why is the water that color? How does this fish get its food? Where are we located? How do you suppose this sail helps the boat move? Not only can these experiences generate many hypotheses, but they can also challenge the "mental models" students have. Will the sail be too heavy to raise? Lets try! Is anything living in this "yucky" water? Lets go trawling and see! Open-Water Environmental Education presents such a rich array of sensory perceptions and practical (and theoretical) questions that it is a rare child whose mental models are not at least somewhat shaken up during the field trip.
My first task was to locate Open-Water Environmental Education programs existing in the United States. I searched in education journals, directories of maritime and marine-related museums and aquariums, and the Internet. I also contacted people I had met in the field of marine and freshwater education. I found no journal articles relating directly to Open-Water Environmental Education, although some articles on environmental and experiential education were related, and some articles explored marine science curricula that could be used by boat programs.
The searches of museum directories, the Internet, and word of mouth proved much more fruitful, although I still found no analysis or even characterization of OWEE programs in general. When I looked for literature on the particular kind of environmental and experiential education that takes place on boats, I was unsuccessful. I searched in the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) (1966-1995) database as well as journals including: Journal of Chemical Education, American Biology Teacher, The Journal of Marine Education, Science and Children, Journal of Biological Education, Nature Study, Journal of Curriculum Studies, and Science Teacher. Because of the multi-disciplinary nature of OWEE programs, the ERIC search (with key words such as "maritime" and "sailing") also turned up journals relating to the social sciences and maritime arts. The articles I found in these journals dealt largely with curricula relating to boats and the sea, rather than actual field trips on boats. Some of these journals are: Social Studies, Sea World, and Mosaic.
The search of ERIC and also of the University of Vermont on-line catalog also uncovered books on experiential education, environmental education, hands-on science, and marine education, but none of these dealt specifically with Open-Water Environmental Education. Examples of some of these books are: Tools of Oceanography: Ocean Related Curriculum Activities, by Florence Sands; What are the ABCs of Marine Education? An Introduction to Marine Education in the Gulf of Maine Region, by John Butsow; and, The Floating Lab Research Project: An Approach to Evaluating Field Programs, by Michael J. Brody.
Due to a lack of recorded study of OWEE programs, I began my search for existing programs that might be available to study. Some programs I knew about simply through word of mouth, and my connections to the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. These programs included one on Puget Sound ("Sound Experience") that had been founded by a former Clearwater captain, and two programs on Long Island Sound ("Schooner Inc.", and "Voyager Cruises"). This small number of programs, however, would not provide a sample size large enough to warrant study, so I looked in various program directories to find additional, similar programs.
The following directories were most useful in finding OWEE programs existing in the U.S.:
Through the Internet I discovered several of the newer programs, including the Inland Seas Education Association in Michigan, the Milwaukee Maritime Centers Milwaukee Lake Schooner in Wisconsin, and OceanQuest in Massachusetts.
In all, these directories yielded 50 programs that potentially met the criteria of OWEE. After assembling a list of potential Open-Water Environmental Education programs, I began to call or otherwise contact these programs to find out if they did, indeed, meet the criteria I had set out for OWEE programs. During these calls, I also generally asked for references to other OWEE programs. In several cases, programs I contacted by phone informed me about other programs. I assembled a list of 40 programs that were confirmed (either by telephone or in person) to meet the criteria I had set out for OWEE programs. The list included addresses, program directors names, and telephone numbers, and served as the mailing list for the mail survey.
Observing Programs and Interviewing Directors
I began visiting Open-Water Environmental Education programs in March, 1996. I quickly set up appointments for observing OWEE programs and interviewing directors and made some visits before I had designed my structured interview. This was partly the result of logistics, but also because I needed to scope out existing programs so that appropriate questions could be developed.
My initial visits to three programs were efforts at exploring the field of Open-Water Environmental Education and narrowing down the essential questions I was asking. This narrowing process proved useful for the mail survey as well as for the structured interview. I visited seven programs, generally conducting both open-water observations and an interview at each location. However, for one program, I interviewed personnel but did not conduct observations (New England Aquariums "Science at Sea" program), and for two programs I observed but did not conduct interviews (Dauphin Island Sea Labs "Discovery Hall" program and Voyager Cruises Schooner Argia program). Two programs that I visited did not return a completed mail survey. The following are descriptions of all the programs I visited.
The first two interviews I conducted did not follow a structured format because I needed to explore appropriate questions. The structured interview was used in two of the six visits to OWEE programs, the Lake George Associations "Floating Classroom", and the Chesapeake Bay Program. On two earlier visits to programs, I used an informal, conversational interview style (New England Aquarium in Boston, MA, and Project Oceanology in Groton, CT).
Results and Discussion
Through program directories, the Internet, journal articles, word of mouth, and personal contacts on the phone and at conferences, I confirmed that a total of at least 34 Open-Water Environmental Education programs existed in the U.S. Thirty-four surveys were sent by mail, and one survey was filled out at the 1997 National Marine Educators Association annual conference. I received 27 mail surveys back, 25 of which I used in my data analysis. Six of these represented programs I had visited and interviewed.
Several of the programs that returned the survey do not meet all the criteria I had determined for OWEE programs. One program did not take school groups (just the general public), so that survey was omitted from my data set. Six programs did overnight trips rather than one-day field trips. I decided to include five of these six programs in my data set, despite this deviation. Each of these five programs offers trips of 1-7 days duration and met all other criteria for inclusion. The one that I did not include takes students to sea for an extended period of time (4-8 weeks). This puts it in a different category of cost ($3600-$7200 per student versus $0-$40) as well as program content. Two of the five programs with overnight trips, as well as one additional program, appear to serve only one school.
The mail survey data reveal some patterns of behavior among OWEE programs, and the observations and interviews afford detailed pictures of how a variety of these programs operate. Returning to my original research questions:
My answer to both questions is "yes."
OWEE as a Definable Field
The corollaries of the first hypothesis were:
Although Open-Water Environmental Education may not be recognized yet in literature as a field of education, there are some indications that it is a well established activity serving a large number of students. Among these indications are: the existence of both older and newer programs; the large number of students served; the interest of OWEE programs in learning more about similar programs; and, the similarities among programs.
My research did not include inquiries as to how long programs had been running, but from anecdotal evidence, and mail survey question #31, which asks for the year of boat purchase, it appears that:
From my mail survey, the estimated annual attendance by school children of OWEE programs as of March, 1997 was 159,941. This number is the sum of estimated and recorded participation reported by surveyed programs.
Nearly all (92%) of the surveyed programs indicated that they would like to see the results of the mail survey, and 88% indicated they would approve of their information being included in a directory of OWEE programs. There was also a high return rate (79%) for the mail surveys; generally, a return rate of over 70% is considered very good (Babbie, 1973). The fact that there are several programs at least 20 years old suggests that this activity is sustainable. The existence of newer programs (four that are five or fewer years old), on the other hand, suggests the field is still growing. In addition, the total estimated number of students served annually by the programs studied (159,941) testifies to the substantial involvement of students in OWEE programs.
Another indication that OWEE may be a growing, possibly cohesive field, is the percentage of response to my mail survey (79%). This response rate may indicate that responders were enthusiastic to contribute to bringing fuller recognition to their field. This impression is reinforced by the fact that 92% of the surveyed programs wanted to see the results of the mail survey, and 88% approved of their information being included in a directory of OWEE programs. Willingness to interact with other organizations carrying on similar activities may indicate the need for support from like-minded people in the field.
These indicators taken together suggest that OWEE is a form of environmental education that is reaching a significant number of students, is growing, and is here to stay. Although I did my utmost to contact as many programs as I could, there are certainly existing OWEE programs that I could not contact, or that have started since my research began. Since my data collection period ended, I have seen or heard news of at least a dozen programs that were not on my original list of 34, and each year I learn of more. This would indicate that my study only covers a sample of a greater population of OWEE programs in the U.S.
Perhaps more significant than numbers of programs, however, are the similarities among the OWEE programs I studied. The six criteria I set for OWEE programs are quite precise, yet at least 30 programs met these requirements. These programs take place on boats during the school year, use much of the same equipment to do many of the same samplings and tests, and teach many of the same subjects. The mail survey showed that 92% teach environmental studies, 84% teach ecology, 84% teach biology, 80% teach history, and 80% teach maritime or nautical arts (see Table 1).
Table 1: Summary of Responses to Question #1 of the Mail Survey: Subjects Taught
|Subject||Count||Percent of Cases|
The survey also showed that many of the OWEE programs conduct the same aquatic sampling (see Table 2). A majority (88%) conducted water quality monitoring with students. Of these, 96% sampled temperature, 77% sampled pH, and 77% sampled plankton. In addition, 46% marked "other", indicating there were a large number of parameters sampled that I had not named on the survey form.
Table 2: Summary of Responses to Question #6 of the Mail Survey: Water Quality Parameters Monitored
|Subject||Count||Percent of Cases|
These appear to be some of the defining characteristics of OWEE programs that is, that they teach life sciences, history, and maritime arts, and that they usually conduct some water quality testing. Some other prominent similarities among most OWEE programs were that they tend to be non-profit (80%), and that they usually own at least one of the boats that they use (84%), and the day programs are usually between 2 and 4 hours long (79%). These are patterns that provide a fairly clear profile of the field of Open-Water Environmental Education.
Although these conclusions seem reasonable, my sample size is relatively small; 25 programs may be a small number to establish a trend. In addition, 20-30 years of operation (as the oldest OWEE programs are) may not constitute true institutional longevity, as compared to other institutions of learning. Likewise, a handful of emerging new programs may not substantiate a growing field.
Nevertheless, I believe the evidence shows that Open-Water Environmental Education is definable and discrete. If only a handful of programs had replied to my survey, or if few programs had met my criteria, or if the programs had varied wildly in substantial ways, I would have considered the tests to have failed (and I would have chosen another topic of study!). Not only do 25 or so programs reveal strong patterns of common features, but also their representatives express a desire to learn from and to aid others conducting similar activities.
The second hypothesis was: certain attributes of OWEE programs will present clear models for new or developing programs to emulate. Corollaries to this hypothesis were:
Once it is established that the field of Open-Water Environmental Education exists, the more important issue is whether or not there is enough definition within the field, and whether or not the studied programs can be instructive to developing programs. While it may be useful and interesting to identify a particular sub-class of environmental education, the more substantive use of this study would be to guide others hoping to develop OWEE programs.
Common Key Features
As I have discussed, there are some prominent similarities among the programs I studied. Some of these represent what I would call "key features", meaning characteristics that appear to have an important influence on the way a program is run. For example, the fact that most of the studied programs are non-profit is most likely an influential factor. Non-profit organizations are run differently from for-profit businesses. Non-profits, because of their status, may be able to place high priority on educational objectives, whereas a for-profit organization may sacrifice such objectives for the bottom line: turning a profit.
An illustration of this tendency may be the New England Aquarium, whose open-water program is for-profit. The aquarium must keep its programs short (1.5 hours) and frequent (up to six trips per day) in order to have the volume of students that will maintain a profit margin. This type of rapid schedule and concern with volume will have an effect on the amount of attention each student receives, the number of topics covered, and the extent to which the program is actually hands-on.
Non-profit status may also indicate more financial stability. Although the New England Aquarium interviewee said the aquarium was making a profit from its OWEE program, the mail survey showed that for-profit programs showed a higher tendency to state that they had experienced serious financial problems than not-for-profit programs.
Other similarities among the studied programs that I also consider key features
are that they:
OWEE programs have a very strong tendency to be interdisciplinary; all programs taught at least two subjects. In addition, 96% of survey respondents said they teach three or more subjects and 84% teach four or more subjects. This is likely the result of the opportunities provided by an activity that has diverse elements. It may also be a function of programs seeking to be flexible to the curricular needs of schools in order to attract as many attendees as possible. My observations revealed that each outing tends to be interdisciplinary (rather than one school receiving history lessons, and the next, biology), and this may also be true for most of the programs surveyed. The flexibility and versatility that an interdisciplinary program demands from the staff will probably have a strong influence on the type of people who are hired, as well as on the experience of the students.
Most OWEE programs (88%) conduct some kind of water quality monitoring with their students. For the purposes of the survey, "water quality monitoring" was not restricted to chemical parameters, but also included plankton, chlorophyll a, and other biologically based measurements. The fact that most programs conduct monitoring indicates something about the role these programs consciously or unconsciously can play in the community. It suggests that the programs might serve a purpose other than education that students are engaged in a service project that may benefit their community. Sixty-eight percent of the survey respondents said they conduct monitoring on a regular basis, 48% said they enter data into computers, 16% made these data available through a computer network, and 40% said the data are used for professional research or other purposes other than the students learning experience. Several of the programs that did not enter or share data noted that they planned to do so.
The message that students can make a difference in aquatic conservation efforts by helping take accurate and precise measurements is substantially different from the message that they are on the boat only to learn (and that it is up to "scientists" to do the monitoring). The inclusion of monitoring in the program may also have implications for which instruments are employed on board, and even for which funding sources may be available.
Eighty-four percent of the surveyed OWEE programs own at least one of the boats they use. This has at least two immediate implications: first, the program must pay to maintain the boat(s) and, second, the program must bear the insurance for the boat and the liability of its passengers (in some cases, programs that leased their boat said the charter company covered insurance). These are significant obligations that shape the administration of the program. Owning the boat may free the program to design the boat to fit its specifications, and also to run programs whenever and wherever it chooses. It also carries significant budgetary and personnel implications.
Of those programs that conduct day programs, 79% are between two and four hours long. The significance of this is mostly that such programs can conduct more than one field trip per day, perhaps even three or more. This provides opportunities to reach higher numbers of students, to increase revenues, and, generally, to take advantage of the economies of scale. On the other hand, when the program conducts more than one outing per day, crew burnout (and the attendant safety and quality concerns) is a greater danger.
Distinguishing Key Features
There are "key features" which, instead of being common to all or most OWEE programs, seem to distinguish between one type of Open-Water Environmental Education and another type. Some of these distinguishing features are best displayed by the case studies, where I received a first-hand impression of various program aspects. Because I viewed these programs through all three research instruments, I was able to get a tangible sense of features that seemed to have a significant effect on the students as well as on the administration of the OWEE program.
The case studies tend to offer examples of key features that are on one end of the spectrum of all the programs I studied. For example, Project Oceanology is not just well integrated with schools, but is run and financed by entire school districts. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation does not just have a few boats that dock in several locations, but has nearly 100 boats that dock in many places along one of the largest estuaries in the U.S. As such, the case studies present graphic pictures of the potential impact of a few key distinguishing features.
I joined Project Oceanology on a 2.5-hour trip on Long Island Sound with about 40 middle-school students. Staff included a captain and two educators. We left the dock without any orientation, safety talk, or introduction to the captain (preliminaries that are often practiced on other programs). After motoring out to the fishing area, the trawl net was let out. A plankton tow was made at the same time. During the trawl, one educator conducted a discussion at the bow (where there was less noise from the engine) regarding navigational issues and environmental issues. Students helped haul in the trawl lines, examined the contents of trawl net, measured fish specimens, and recorded fish species and sex.
After the trawl, the boat pulled up onto the sandy shore of a small island. The students descended to the island on an aluminum ladder off the bow. The group gathered for a discussion on the islands gull rookery, and then conducted a systematic survey of eggs and chicks. Although students were warned to be quiet and not disturb chicks, these warnings were not completely heeded. A bird of another species attacked and killed a gull chick that had been roused by students, thus creating a lesson for the group. Later, on board, one staff member thoroughly debriefed the students who had surveyed and recorded bird data.
The most striking impressions I had from my observations of Project Oceanology were:
there was minimal orientation before setting out;
the staff was very professional and knowledgeable; and
the field observation of both aquatic fauna and birds seemed unusual and enriching.
After the field trip, I interviewed the director of the program. The director stated that 14 school districts got together to support the program in 1972, and that "the interest and motivation was directly from the schools." Schools can participate in one of three ways: as a member school (within 20 miles of the dock); a subscriber school (outside the 20-mile radius), or a non-member school. Fees and benefits to the schools vary according to status. Project Oceanologys literature states that it is owned and operated by a non-profit association of 30 educational institutions, and the Project is governed by an assembly of delegates representing the member institutions. The director stated that although it may be hard to get financial commitments year-to-year from schools, relying on foundation support would be a mistake. He seemed to think that continuous funding from foundations is less likely than continuous support from a group that is actually served directly by the program.
Project Oceanologys strong connection with schools appears in the mail survey as well; they estimated that 75%-99% of participating schools incorporate the open-water educational experience into school curricula. The survey also stated they perceive that participating schools have altered their curricula in order to take full advantage of what the on-water program offers.
I observed and participated in the CBF program "Maryland Canoe Rig" at the Gunpowder River, MD, an estuary north of Baltimore. The participants in this canoe program were five high school boys from an inner city school, as well as their teachers and the bus driver, who had never been in a boat before. Normally, there would have been more students, but there had been a misunderstanding about a day off from school. Two CBF staff led the trip, starting with activities on land. These included map orientation and practicing paddling strokes (while standing on a lawn).
Much of the energy of the first hour or so of the trip went into simply helping the students learn to canoe as they wove from bank to bank, attempting to gain control. There was a lot of yelling, laughing and splashing. Once the group reached the mouth of the estuary, we pulled onto a pebbly shore and began some sampling activities. These included cast-netting (in pairs or individually), seine-netting (short, about 6 or 8 in length), and measuring water turbidity with a Secchi disk. Two students were sent out in a canoe to do this just off shore. Small fish caught in the nets were stored (temporarily) in small tubes with closable ends, and larger fish were left in buckets. The group ate lunch on the shore, and then proceeded to a site where staff taught about the threats of exotic species. The staff led the group onto shore into a Phragmites bed to experience the sponginess of the substrate. Some mucky face painting ensued.
I also observed programs at the Karen Noonan Center at Bishops Head, a restored fowl-hunting camp on a remote point on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. At the time of my visit, ninth through twelfth-graders from one school were at the center on a three-day residence (of which I observed the second day). In the morning, we went out in canoes with two or three people per canoe, to visit a marsh for activities similar to those of the "Maryland Canoe Rig" outing I had observed the day before.
As part of the walk on the marsh, two groups of students faced each other, taking turns jumping up and down on the ground so others can feel the vibrations of the saturated soil. Other activities were also similar, including cast-netting and seine-netting. Some of the fish samples from the nets were saved for later analysis. Students were also asked to collect and press plants.
In the afternoon, a "waterman", the name used on Chesapeake Bay for a person who earns his living harvesting fish, oysters, or crabs from the bay, piloted the Karen N, a 40-foot, aluminum-hulled, jet-drive vessel. This waterman captain had no training as an educator, but had years of experience working on the bay, and was at the time employed by CBF. We set out without any spoken orientation, and the students sat mostly silent amid the high, piercing sound from the turbine, traveling for at least 20 minutes with no discussion. When the boat arrived at the area where the group had set out "crab pots" (wire basket traps) the previous day, the students took turns picking up crab pots. The procedure was to lean over the side with the boat hook, hook the floating buoy, bring up the cage, and shake out crabs into a bin. The students had put out 16 pots in all. After the catch, the captain led a talk about the biology of crabs, and spoke of the watermans relationship to the crab population (covering some economic as well as ecological issues). My observation notes read, "Perhaps the most unique aspect of this program is the presence of the genuine waterman; very unsophisticated teaching techniques, but captivated the students." There may be a place in many programs for someone who has made his/her living from the water.
I observed CBFs "Baltimore Harbor Workboat" program on the former working vessel Snowgoose, which set out from Baltimores inner harbor with approximately 25 students from a middle school. The program began with a thorough safety talk on the dock. Extra belongings such as coats and lunches were stowed in closed bins. All visitors (besides the school group itself) were required to fill out health forms (including insurance, contacts, etc.). There were two staff, including the captain, meaning that during motoring, one staff member led the program.
The outing began with a short tour of the inner harbor, including a close look at some of the industry along the shore. The educator divided students into groups, asked them to study different types of maps or charts, and then had each group explain its type of map to the other groups. Each group also tested a different water quality parameter (dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, etc.). During some activities, groups of students sometimes went without supervision for several minutes. Trawl and dredge samples were collected off the stern in the outer harbor. Some historical aspects of the harbor were included in the tour.
Some of the on-board logistics I noticed were: the head (toilet) seemed reserved for emergencies; maps were kept under Plexiglas on the engine box; for protection against heavy weather, clear plastic foul weather flaps (that zip down and can be attached to the gunwales) were rolled up at outboard edges of the cabin; the captain shut off the engine often for activities and talk; the boat docked for lunch; they had a squeegee to wipe off wet surfaces (from rain or waves); and, when hauling in the trawl line, they switched between one group and another, each on different sides of the boat.
I had several striking impressions from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation programs. One was the mixture of focus on culture and history with the focus on the natural environment. The program at the Karen Noonan Center emphasized the culture of local fishing and hunting, and the Baltimore Harbor program challenged the students to think about the industry and shipping that are an integral part of the harbor environment. One of the vehicles by which Chesapeake Bay culture was conveyed to the students was through the stories, teachings, and presence of the experienced waterman on staff.
Another lesson I learned from CBF was that a low ratio of staff to students may result in periods of time when some students have limited contact with program staff. On the workboat, when the captain was busy operating the controls, the educator was in charge of 25 students.
The canoe rig program showed me that a fairly low-budget operation consisting of a trailer loaded with eight to ten canoes can be effective. Although such a program was not able to do a trawl, the students did some fish-netting, and some water quality testing as well. These students were in very close touch with the boats they were handling and the water that they paddled through.
I conducted a structured interview with CBFs vice-president for education on January 28, 1998 in Annapolis, Maryland. He told me the program was 26 years old, and that he had been there for 22 years. In 1976, CBF had three staff; in 1998, they had 58 staff members. He said CBF does extensive evaluation and training: "we count numbers of participants, we have evaluation forms for teachers, we interview teachers, and, in staff training, the staff evaluate themselves in the prior season. We also have field senior managers visit and review sites, and team-teach as well as observe and comment."
The programs philosophy has evolved over time. The vice-president for education said they used to think it was enough to motivate students, "But then we realized that was not enough to bring about change, so we did teacher trainings, and then curriculum (thinking skills), because the trip itself is mostly emotional. Its a radically different program much more complete. It used to be a slice of the pie, now its the whole pie. Weve added a restoration component on the trip itself its a good follow-up activity."
The size of CBF may be neither desirable nor possible for other programs to emulate, but nevertheless CBF presents worthy challenges to the field of OWEE: to offer enough of a variety of programs at enough locations that a large percentage of the students in the basin have the opportunity to go out on the water, and to work to improve programming over the years. In my observations, the program reached inner-city, low-income students from a public high school as well as students from a private middle school on the other side of the bay. It would be ideal if all OWEE programs were able to reach most of the schools in the basin of the body of water where the program takes place, and were also able to continually improve their curricula.
I observed the "Floating Classroom" from Bolton Landing, NY, with a group of 30 seventh-graders. The outing lasted three hours, and was done in two rotations, each group also participating in a land portion of the program that took place about one mile away from the dock on an old farm (with a wetland, pond, meadow, and forest). Two staff members and one volunteer led the program.
Students were divided into small groups of two or three individuals. Each group used graph paper and charts to draw a depth profile of one transect across a channel of the lake ("benthic profile"). Each group had data sheets to fill out, and several measuring or sampling devices including a plankton net, a water sampler, and a thermometer. Water samples were taken at assigned depths so that a temperature profile was achieved with readings at regular intervals. The data were plotted on a display chart so students could see the profile that their measurements had generated.
Some logistical details that seemed to work well were: starting the educational talk at the dock; passing out notebooks at the beginning to each group of students; using a microphone/PA when motoring; and, turning off the engine and anchoring when doing the samples and measurements.
The volunteer education coordinator said in her interview with me that the programs philosophy was "to involve kids, not just talk to them learn by doing, standing up, getting wet, using equipment, asking them to draw deductions and reason, consider possibilities of why data say what they do. We are doing what we can to make them feel ownership." It was my impression that the abundance of sampling and measuring equipment on board, as well as the high staff to student ratio, helped the program empower the students to achieve these goals.
Other Programs Visited
The three other programs I visited were not full case studies because I did not have all three sets of data. I obtained less complete pictures of these programs goals and operations, but nevertheless gained useful information. The New England Aquarium "Science at Sea" program, whose sales director I interviewed, was the only for-profit OWEE program I came in contact with. Voyager Cruises was the only program I visited that took place on a replica of a nineteenth-century sailboat (excluding my previous experiences on the Sloop Clearwater). I observed the Discovery Hall program on a day when the program staff did not lead the outing, and perhaps the lack of an interview heightened my impression that this particular outing lacked focus and direction.
Some water quality monitoring is conducted with students on board. Data sheets recording the readouts of the CTD probe (which measures salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, and depth) are kept, but the samples are not taken on a regular basis, and the data sheets are not tallied or entered into a computer.
The sales director said the aquarium determines the success of its open-water educational programs with some responses to evaluations, and feedback on the boat from teachers. The director said one sign of success is that, "The product is moving. We started with two to three trips per day, and now we are booking trips into the evening, with a maximum of six trips per day."
One of the main challenges the director cited was the limited amount of time with each school group (1.5 hours) because of the need to have a large volume of paying passengers. Also, the director pointed out that it was difficult to find enough staff time to enter monitoring data into a computer database.
The programs educational philosophy is to offer a primer for science literacy for students at a young age, using hands-on activities.
The Voyager Cruises educational trip was staffed by two educators, two crew, and the captain. During the initial motoring out of the Mystic River, the head educator gave a lengthy talk (about 15-20 minutes) on boat terminology, estuaries, and aquatic ecology. Once out in Long Island Sound, the trawl was set off the stern (by staff only); the students helped haul it in. The staff gave the students time to look through trawl net contents (that were lying on deck). The group did not rotate to stations, but were rather split into teams, to help with Secchi disk measurements, water sampling, and the plankton tow. Students also helped raise the sails. At one point, the captain slowed the boat to give the passengers the opportunity to look at harbor seals basking on rocks in the water. The captain also allowed periodic engine lulls for talking.
Distinguishing key features were revealed mostly through statistical analysis of the mail survey data. These features were shared by a substantial portion (i.e., generally more than 30% and less than 70%) of the respondents, but not displayed by all. These key features also appeared to have an impact on other aspects of programs, whether they be curricular, logistical, or administrative. When large enough portions of the entire sample made distinctly different programmatic choices, the statistical tests could be used to relate these choices to other aspects of the programs. The key features I focus on are either dichotomous or are rendered so by making a break at an apparently natural point on a gradient (Table 3).
Table 3: Dichotomous Divisions of some OWEE Program Features
|Non-replica vs. replica (of traditional vessel)||42% vs. 58%|
|North vs. South (with MD as south)||48% vs. 52%|
|Several or many vessels (3-49) vs. 1-2||44% vs. 56%|
Replica vs. non-replica (of traditional vessel)
Perhaps one of the most important distinctions in OWEE programs is between those that are replicas of historic (or "traditional") vessels, and those that are not. The mail survey showed there were ten non-replicas and 14 replicas among the respondents. Some programs employ both kinds of vessel. Statistical analysis of the mail survey data showed that there is a strong tendency for programs sailing on traditional-type vessels to teach history, and less of a tendency among programs on other types of vessels (see Table 4). It also appeared that programs on traditional-type vessels had a stronger tendency to teach maritime and nautical arts.
Table 4: Results of Chi-squared Tests of Independence Using Variables Related to Curriculum
|Survey Question #s||p-value||Potential Relationship Between Variables|
|Q1d (teach history) vs. q14 (replica)||P=.020||Those having a replica of a traditional vessel had a tendency to teach history.|
|Q2 (supplemental curricula) vs. newq27 (% revenue in grants)||P=.024||Programs offering pre-or post-outing curricular materials tended to have less than 50% of their revenue come from grants.|
|Q2 (supplemental curricula) vs. q23 (government affiliation)||P=.089||Programs without a government affiliation showed a greater tendency to offer supplemental materials than programs affiliated with the government.|
|Q2 (supplemental curricula) vs. q33 (financial ties)||P=.053||Programs without financially binding relationships to other organizations were less likely to offer supplemental curricular materials.|
|Newq3 (schools integration of OWEE) vs. q23 (govt affn)||P=.061||Programs with a government affiliation had less of a tendency to state that participating schools incorporated the OWEE experience into school curricula.|
|Newq3 (schools integration of OWEE) vs. xq18a (# students)||P=.046||Programs with lower student attendance rates had less of a tendency to state that participating schools incorporated the OWEE experience into school curricula.|
|Newq3 (schools integration of OWEE) vs. q4 (schools alter curricula)||P=.018||Programs perceiving that participating schools alter their curricula to take advantage of the OWEE program also had a tendency to state that participating schools incorporated the OWEE experience into school curricula.|
Statistical analysis of the mail survey also showed that programs with replicas have a stronger tendency to dock at multiple points than programs with non-replicas (see Table 5). Programs docking at multiple points also tend to have higher student attendance rates. Although there was no relationship found between replicas and attendance rates, the connection between replicas and multiple docking points may be important. It may be that replicas are showcased more than non-replica boats. There is likely more public interest in large sailboats (which many of the replicas are) than in less colorful research vessels or converted fishing boats. Therefore, there may be greater demand for schools and communities at various points along a water body to request field trips on a replica than on a non-replica.
In my own experience (on the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater) and observations, there is an intangible feeling of awe and mystery that sailing replicas evoke. Some of the reasons are observable: on these vessels (as I observed on Voyager Cruises), the students often help raise the sails and do other maritime-related tasks. None of the other programs I observed involved students in strictly maritime-oriented activities (as opposed to scientific). The connection with history and the awesome responsibility of taking part in sailing a vessel usually appears to impress students.
Furthermore, replicas tend to be unique. Research and other non-replicated vessels often have a similar appearance to many other modern watercraft, e.g., an enclosed cockpit on deck; radar, loran, or other modern navigational aids; electric winches; and fiberglass or metal (as opposed to wood) decking. Replicas, however, often have an entire array of rare sights in this day of motorized transportation: wooden mast, gaff, boom, shrouds, tiller, worn wood, oiled blocks, sails, and even sweeps (long oars).
Table 5: Results of Chi-squared Tests of Independence Using Variables Related to Boat Logistics and Administration
|Survey Question #s||p-value||Potential Relationship Between Variables|
|xq18a (# of students) vs. newq30 (% budget spent on insurance)||P=.018||Programs with lower numbers of attendees tended to have higher insurance costs (as expressed in terms of percentage of overall budget) than programs with higher numbers of attendees.|
|N_or_s (north or south) vs. q12 (#months/year)||P=.030||There is a strong relationship between southern programs (Maryland and farther south) and running for seven or more months per year, although northern programs varied.|
|Oq18a (# of students) vs. q12 (#months/year)||P=.069||Programs that operate seven or more months of the year tend to have 3000+ annual student attendees, whereas those operating fewer than 7 months tend to have fewer student attendees.|
|Xq18a (# of students) vs. q17 (docking pts.)||P=.019||Programs with fewer than 1000 annual student attendees tended to dock at one point.|
|Oq18a (# of students) vs. q17 (docking pts.)||P=.009||Programs with fewer than 3000 annual student attendees tended to dock at one point, and programs with more attendees tended to dock at multiple points.|
vs. q13b (own boat)
|P=.020||Those having a replica of a traditional vessel had a tendency to own the boat(s) they use.|
vs. q17 (docking pts.)
|P=.074||Non-replica boats tend to dock at only one point whereas replicas may be more likely to dock at multiple points.|
|Q23 (government affiliation) vs. q32 (maintenance costs)||P=.077||Programs without government affiliations tended to have lower maintenance costs ($0-$12,000 vs. $12,000+).|
|Q23 (govt affiliation) vs. newq11 (few/many vessels)||P=.061||Programs without government affiliations tended to have only one or two boats, rather than three or more.|
|Q33 (financial ties) vs. oneq11 (one/more than one vessel)||P=.099||Programs with financially binding relationships to other organizations showed a tendency to have more than one boat.|
|Q33 (financial ties) vs. oq18a (# of students)||P=.100||Programs with financially binding relationships to other organizations tended to have higher annual student attendance.|
|Q33 (financial ties) vs. q17 (docking pts.)||P=.036||Programs with financially binding relationships to other organizations showed a stronger tendency to use multiple docking points than programs without binding relationships.|
|Q22 (for-profit/non-profit) vs. newq11 (few/ many vessels)||P=.046||For-profit programs showed a higher tendency than non-profit programs to operate fewer vessels.|
|Q22 (for-profit/non-profit) vs. oneq11 (one/> one vessel)||P=.005||For-profit programs showed a higher tendency than non-profit programs to operate a single vessel.|
|Q22 (for-profit/non-profit) vs. q26 (rely on outside funds)||P=.047||Non-profit programs showed a higher tendency than for-profit programs to rely on outside funding sources (grants) to support their programs.|
|Q22 (for-profit/non-profit) vs. q34 (use of non-educational trips)||P=.016||For-profit programs had a tendency to state that their financial viability depends on outings whose primary purpose is not educational.|
|Q26 (rely on outside funds) vs. q34 (use of non-educational trips)||P=.042||Programs whose financial viability does not depend on outings whose primary purpose is not educational had a greater tendency to rely on outside funding support.|
On the other hand, research vessels may give rise to fascination with scientific gear such as the dredge, sonar depth-finder, computer readouts, and the like. Sometimes students seem excited by the knowledge that they are seeing and using equipment that is the state-of the art for the professional scientific community.
Another factor that may inform the choice of replica vs. non-replica is the noise of running the engine. All the replicas I studied have engine- as well as sail-propulsion, but sailing vessels can cut the engine even on a windy day because they have the ability to maneuver using wind power. Vessels having only engine power usually must rely on their propellers to maintain steerage, although one program I visited (Lake George Associations Floating Classroom) cut their engine and drifted for short periods of time. On at least two of the other programs I observed, I noted the pervasive loudness of the engine. On these programs, the engine sometimes prevented my hearing the instructors, and also created a constant background noise that obscured the natural sounds of the water and its biota.
There are a variety of other factors of OWEE programs that this division (between replica and non-replica) could potentially influence. Although this study did not show a direct correlation between replica and purchase or maintenance costs, it is worth mentioning that most of the higher maintenance costs are associated with programs having replicas or sailing vessels (most sailing vessels are replicas of traditional or historic boats, and are also usually wooden).
The maximum amount cited for annual boat maintenance cost was $300,000 ($300K) for a single "tall ship" a metal-hulled sailing vessel that is a replica of an historic vessel. Although the second highest maintenance cost cited ($115 K) was not for a replica, most of the annual maintenance costs above $10K are for replicas. Eight programs with replicas of traditional vessels cited maintenance costs of over $10K per year, whereas only two programs with non-replicas cited annual costs above $10K. Total maintenance cost differences of replica vs. non-replicas was approximately $443K. Unfortunately, the sample size was especially small on this question: eight survey participants did not respond to this question (some of which omitted maintenance costs because they lease their vessels). It was more difficult to discern a pattern in actual purchase cost of vessels because of donations, differences in date of purchase, and some programs owning several boats. The most expensive boat ($1.5 million) is not a replica, but all the others with purchase costs above $100K (n=6) are replicas.
North vs. South
Another distinction between programs, which may seem too obvious to be important, is whether they are in the North or South. I chose Maryland (included in the South) as the border. Although Delaware could easily have been the cut-off point, this would not have made a difference in numbers of programs in each category. Great Lakes programs were considered northern. On the West Coast, California programs were deemed southern, and Washington was northern. Knowing that volume of student attendees is probably a critical factor for many programs financial viability, and that the number of available days on the water could influence attendance, my hypothesis was that southern programs would conduct programs for more months per year, and therefore have a higher number of attendees and greater financial stability.
In fact, there appears to some correlation between months of operation and north/south position, although not between north/south position and student attendance. This is probably because several other factors besides warm weather have a major influence on number of attendees. Boat size, institutional reputation, and available population base are likely to be the most pertinent factors affecting student attendance numbers on OWEE programs.
A chi-squared test showed there is a strong relationship between southern programs and running for seven or more months per year, although northern programs varied in the number of months per year they operated (see Table 6). In other words, southern programs are nearly always able to run for seven or more months, whereas northern programs have a 50/50 chance of doing so.
Table 6: Months of Operation for Programs in the North and South
Number of Vessels
Another potentially critical division among programs is those which have one or two vessels vs. those which have several, or a fleet (three or more) (q#11). Of the programs surveyed, ten have a single boat, and four programs have two boats. Eleven programs have three or more boats. Three programs marked "10-49" vessels, and one of these programs (Chesapeake Bay Foundation) has 17 vessels of various sizes, plus 81 canoes, for a total of 98 vessels.
Because there is no obvious break in the numbers for this survey question, it is difficult to draw a meaningful line between those that have many boats and those that have few. I ran chi-squared tests of several variables with those programs having only one boat and those programs having two or more. I also tried drawing the line between those having one or two boats, and those having three or more. In both cases, the cross-tabulations revealed some apparent relationships, indicating that number of vessels may influence or be influenced by other features.
Programs with fewer boats tended to have greater independence. For example (see Table 5):
These trends could be interpreted in various ways. They could suggest that, if you want several boats, you will probably have to establish affiliations and strong agreements with other organizations. Alternatively, affiliations and binding relationships may enable you to branch out obtaining more boats through purchase or donation, thereby enabling greater outreach. It is important to note, however, that number of student attendees appears to have little relationship with these variables.
Cross-tabulations also revealed some less statistically significant relationships that are worth noting. The programs with more than one boat were less likely to have stated financial difficulties, although programs with one boat were as likely to have problems as not. Those programs with multiple vessels obligated a lower percentage of their budgets to insurance than did the programs with only one or two boats. Taken as a whole, all these relationships may indicate that there are certain economies of scale that come with having several boats, but that this level of effort (operating and maintaining several boats) requires substantial commitments to other entities.
Only 25% of the survey respondents to q#23 said they had an affiliation with local, state, or federal government. Among the unaffiliated programs, some patterns seemed to emerge.
These patterns suggest that non-affiliated programs are leaner and perhaps more efficient than government-affiliated programs. It is likely, however, that government funding or other support helps broaden the base of the organization. Boats can be expensive to buy and/or maintain, so government insurance, donations, or other support might enable the operation of several boats. The lack of supplemental materials appears to be a weakness, and should be explored further. Teachers probably prefer to receive curricular materials to help them integrate OWEE outings into classroom activities.
Curricular collaborations with schools
Seventy-nine percent of the surveyed OWEE programs said they offer supplemental classroom materials, what is termed "pre- or post-outing curricula." This refers to worksheets, background reading, challenging games, or other activities that are meant to enrich the students experience on the boat, as well as capitalize on the impression made by the boat trip to stimulate thought afterwards.
Only about 65% of the programs, however, stated that schools actually incorporate the OWEE experience into the school curricula. Among the potential patterns are:
It may be that programs with government affiliations perceive less of a need to put in an extra effort to cater to schools needs. This could explain a lesser tendency of these programs to be concerned with school curricula. Perhaps programs with smaller attendance simply cannot (or choose not to) devote large efforts to working with schools because they have fewer resources. It may be purely a question of critical mass. Working closely with schools can consume many hours of staff time, and, therefore, the larger the scale of an OWEE programs affiliations, the more it can collaborate with schools or school districts.
Several comments on the mail survey alluded to the value of working closely with schools on questions of curriculum and associated activities (see Appendix D). In some cases, schools had adjusted their curricula to take advantage of the OWEE program, and in some cases the OWEE program had tried to meet the schools curricular needs. In general, it appeared programs felt collaboration with schools on curricula was a beneficial and desirable practice.
Testing the Corollary
Although affiliations with other institutions, strong curricular ties with schools, and vessel type seem to be influential features of OWEE programs, my evidence did not necessarily demonstrate that insurance costs, types of revenues, and student water quality monitoring were also key features. Lower insurance costs were associated with higher numbers of student attendees, but surely every program seeks to have low insurance costs. The economies of scale are important in keeping down insurance costs, but are not what I would call a key feature of programs, mostly because no one would purposely choose higher insurance costs.
Likewise, I found no significant relationships between programs conducting student water quality monitoring and other characteristics. This feature may be important for OWEE programs but, because the vast majority of surveyed programs offer this activity, I could not discern any significant patterns in the few which did not. There may be advantages and disadvantages to making the choice to do water quality monitoring, but, in general, it simply seems like a good practice that most OWEE programs follow.
Finally, type of revenues may be important, but did not appear to relate to many other program characteristics. However, those that relied less on grants appeared to have stronger ties with schools (see Table 4). In general, programs generated more of their revenues in fees rather than in grants, which speaks well for the popular support for OWEE programs. On the mail survey, 17% of respondents said they generate over half their revenues through grants (q#27), whereas 65% said they generate over half their revenues through fees (q#28). If OWEE programs were sustained largely on grants, they would probably be at a greater risk of failure, because grant support can be unreliable from year to year.
My final corollary regarding "key features" of OWEE programs was that key features would break down into categories that will present clear choices to new or developing programs. This statement is relatively difficult to test, because it is hard to know what kind of evidence will present clear choices to aspiring open-water educators. However, there are some principal similarities, differences, and relationships, that suggest some models.
Roughly paralleling the key "similarities" among programs that I discussed previously, a successful OWEE program might expect to:
Other Options and Decisions
Other program options and decisions that may be important include the following:
My observations and comments about each appear below.
Sophistication of Monitoring
Although most programs claimed to do some monitoring with students, not all monitor regularly. Of those that monitor, 52% said they enter the data into computers, and 44% said their data are used for professional research or other purposes "external to the students learning experience." Only 17% said the data is entered into a computer network. Monitoring may be of limited use if it is not done regularly or entered into a computer. If the OWEE program aims to share the data among school groups or to use the data for purposes other than education, the monitoring itself and the data management may need to become more sophisticated.
Equipment for Students
The Lake George Associations Floating Classroom provided enough scientific water sampling equipment for students to work in pairs or threes. The amount of focus and excitement that this generated in the students was remarkable. During sampling activities (each sample taken at the same time by all teams), all the students were fully engaged in preparing, throwing over the side, retrieving, and reading their own instruments. The Chesapeake Bay Foundations "Baltimore Harbor Workboat" also had a large amount of sampling equipment for students. However, in this case, each team conducted a different water quality test. This fact combined with a small number of staff seemed to create some lack of student focus and engagement.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundations "Baltimore Harbor Workboat" had a small number of staff. For a class of 25 middle school students, the program was run by the captain of the boat (who was necessarily engaged in navigating the boat a significant portion of the outing) and one educator. This is a ratio of 1/12, at best. The Discovery Hall program had one teacher for a classroom-size group. In other cases, "staff" included adult volunteers who were informed and trained to help the students.
Number of Docking Points
Docking in more than one place can have several benefits on large enough water bodies. Multiple docking locations can increase the availability of the program to schools, because the school buses need not travel as far. It can also increase the general visibility of the OWEE program, possibly creating additional public support. The mail survey showed a strong relationship between multiple docking points and higher numbers of student attendees. Some disadvantages to multiple docking might be increased travel time for staff (or a requirement for a boat that sleeps the crew), increased fuel costs, safety concerns, and finding (and getting permission to use) suitable docks.
Most OWEE programs relied on grants for less than 50% of their revenues (although 70% of the respondents claimed to receive some grant money). The director of "Project Oceanology" in Connecticut commented that the program would die if it relied on foundation support. It would seem good business sense not to rely too heavily on grant money in the long term.
A number of programs (33% of the mail survey respondents) also offer some outings whose main purpose is not educational. Four of these programs rely financially on non-educational outings, and all of these cited "recreation" as the nature of these outings. I note these figures here to reinforce the idea that non-educational outings are an option, and may help boost income to a viable level.
Most programs teach a variety of subjects on board, and nearly all taught either biology or ecology. About half of the programs taught geology and physics. The question on the mail survey, "What subjects do you teach aboard your vessel(s)?" did not specify if the program taught these subjects on each outing, or on different outings. My observations lead me to believe that OWEE programs generally teach two or more subjects on each trip, but several programs tailor programs to meet teachers needs, so it is likely that certain subjects are emphasized on some trips more than others. Geology and physics are probably not emphasized as much as some other subjects, but the physics of water, and the physics related to how sails convert wind energy to the vessels forward motion, as well as the geological evidence sometimes discernable in shoreline rocks, cliffs, and sediment, could be exciting teaching options on board.
I used a combination of qualitative and quantitative research in this study of Open-Water Environmental Education programs in order to obtain both a well-rounded picture of OWEE programs, and to pinpoint the significance of certain features of these programs. Qualitative research methods are used to understand programs and situations as a whole, and to describe the context in which certain features are found (Patton, 1987). The strength of qualitative methods is they can encompass a wider view than quantitative methods, whose strength is to precisely identify factors using numeric or ordinal descriptors.
Joining qualitative and quantitative research methods can be a desirable way to overcome weaknesses in single-method designs (Van Maanen, 1983). This study involved three research instruments, each of which mixed the two methods to some degree. The mail survey was largely quantitative, giving respondents questions that demanded yes/no, numeric, or other limited choices that could be counted and tabulated. Some latitude was given for qualitative comments, and some respondents rose to the occasion. My observations were largely qualitative. I noted various aspects of each program, and also took notes on my impressions of the effect of certain practices. Some notes were almost strictly quantitative, such as the numbers of students participating in the program. The interviews were almost exclusively qualitative, aiming at the descriptions, evaluative comments, and philosophies of the interviewees.
The combination of these three instruments yielded a description of the field of Open-Water Environmental Education that neither purely qualitative nor purely quantitative methods could have produced. The observations and interviews would not have covered the geographical range of the mail survey, nor would they have revealed as clearly the overall patterns of related features in OWEE programs. On the other hand, if I had only relied on the mail survey, the philosophical and historical context of OWEE programs would be missing, as would the experiential traits revealed in the observations.
One of the problems with the quantitative results from the mail survey was the small sample size. Relationships between program features were analyzed using chi-squared tests based on cross-tabulations of the responses to survey questions. In these cross-tabulations, cells often had an expected value of six or less, which is a much lower number than the standard of 20-30 for the achievement of "normalized" data. In simpler terms, this means that the response of just one program could account for a 20% variation in the pattern. Therefore, even though some tests produced statistically "significant" results, the relationships must be accepted cautiously. Those tests with the lowest p-values should be taken most seriously. As for any correlation statistic, the "significant" results of chi-squared tests indicate patterns and not causal relationships.
Inclusion of Overnight Programs
One of the difficult choices I made after receiving the survey results was to include five programs that did not offer day trips. I included day trips as one of the criteria for OWEE programs, largely because the intention was to study programs that are able to educate large numbers of school groups, and the longer the program, the fewer the students reached (although they receive a richer experience). Day programs are also more likely to serve the educational needs of an entire community, rather than a single school or a few privileged students. Some of the information included in these surveys, however, seemed too pertinent and valuable to lose, so the data from these surveys are included in my overall statistical analysis.
The consequence of this choice is that some results may be skewed in particular directions. For example, most of the overnight programs had small attendance numbers, and therefore the mean student attendance numbers are lower than they might have been otherwise.
Chi-squared tests using only the attendance from day programs (which decreases the sample size to 20) in some cases yielded less significant results than when all attendance numbers are included in the sample. However, even when the significance was lowered, the pattern or trend was still the same in all cases.
The overnight programs may have strongly influenced the relationship between attendance and insurance costs. Without the overnight programs, the relationship between attendance and percent of the budget spent on insurance is insignificant. The data show, however, that the overnight programs did not have either the highest or lowest insurance costs of all programs. If the consistency in trends as well as the smaller sample size are taken into account, the conclusions drawn from this particular test (attendance vs. insurance costs) using all 25 respondents seems reasonable.
Choosing Program Features
In many cases, new or developing OWEE programs will not only be choosing the form of their program, but will have to work within certain given constraints. If a replica of an historic sailing vessel is donated to a program, then that program will probably shape its other aspects accordingly. If a state agency or a school district helps form and support the program, these affiliations will likely have a bearing on the nature of the program.
To the extent that any director or board of directors can shape the program from the outset (or, for that matter, in mid-course), I recommend that the key features described in this study be looked at closely. The consequences of certain choices can be broad, long-lasting, and significant for the students, teachers, and schools that use the program. I would direct aspiring OWEE founders especially to the case studies, which vividly display the effects of some of the most important choices she or he will make. The distinguishing key features (as brought to the surface largely by statistical analysis of the mail survey) will also be instructive, and present tentative conclusions regarding the effect of certain programmatic characteristics on the overall program. Within these programs are many good ideas, sound practical advice, and inspiration to bring high-quality Open-Water Environmental Education to as many school children as possible.
Although I did not undertake an evaluation of the success of programs or of particular features, I offer some preliminary views on the strengths of the programs I reviewed.
Most OWEE programs offered a high degree of hands-on involvement for students. This is a central theme in experiential education: students will capitalize on their agency, on learning by discovery, on their multiple intelligences, and on situated learning if they can navigate their way through their sensory experiences. The students always seemed most excited and eager to learn when the lectures were kept short and the students could interact with their environment. At Lake George, the large number of available instruments greatly facilitated hands-on experiences. The more a student can direct the way an instrument is used, the more "agency" she has, and the more likely she will be to learn. Many available instruments give students the opportunity to direct themselves in the manner they choose.
Several of the OWEE programs I observed also relied on teamwork. The combination of ample equipment and students working in small teams appeared to fully engage the students, whereas programs teaching large groups (perhaps in part because they did not have enough equipment for smaller groups) seemed to lose the students on the margins.
One of the most riveting techniques I observed was the use of the native "waterman" on Chesapeake Bay, both to speak casually to the students, and to teach them on the open water. Students (and adults as well) seemed to instinctively sense the "real thing" when they saw it, and their attention was captured by the stories, the accent, and the no-nonsense, experienced movements of this man who had been on the bay all his life. This waterman probably provided an opportunity for situated learning (where a quasi-apprenticeship occurs), which uniquely engaged some students.
Almost all the programs I studied offered a variety of activities on board, and this is appropriate to an environment that is as multi-faceted as boating on the open water. There are many ways to access the biota and chemical elements in the water, as well as many ways to involve passengers in the various workings of the vessel itself. The landscape and the weather also offer rich topics for first-hand observation and critical thinking. Exploring these subjects through sampling, working with lines and other parts of boats, and observation can appeal to multiple intelligences, not just the ones that are predominantly exercised in the classroom.
Direct encounters with living and non-living creatures from the water or from land visits are also powerful tools to involve the students minds and emotions in an educational process. All the programs I observed shared this technique. Pulling fish from the water never fails to impress students and spur their curiosity to examine, touch, and learn more about what is living in the water.
Several OWEE programs I observed included a visit to the land. This explicit connection of land and water seemed to interest the students, and made clearer some of the ecological connections between aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Sometimes the land/water connection was made through a rotation between two groups, and sometimes the boat outing simply included a stop on shore. Some programs may not be able to accommodate a land portion for logistical reasons, but generally it appeared to work well and reinforce important ecological concepts.
Water Quality Monitoring
During my observations, only some programs took careful, systematic notes on the parameters they monitored with students (e.g., the gull eggs carefully counted and recorded by students on the Project Oceanology outing). It seemed to me that the programs that failed to do so were missing the boat. Systematic sampling protocols and good record-keeping of monitoring data can introduce students to the discipline necessary to conduct science (and any other empirical research), and can also be beneficial to the community. Aside from motivating students to be accurate and precise, carefully recorded observations and sampling results can develop a database for future student use.
An orientation or introduction before setting out on the water is a basic necessity. In most cases, students are about to enter an environment to which they are unaccustomed, and which poses considerable dangers (such as falling overboard and getting tangled in moving cable or line). A patient, orderly explanation of what to expect and what is expected of them sets a reassuring tone and prevents accidents. I was surprised that some program leaders gave little or no such orientation. I think the outing seems less intense and important if no orientation occurs before leaving the dock.
I noticed that the programs which stopped running the engine for respites seemed less wearing on me. Nearly all the programs stopped the engine for one reason or another, but some cut the engine for substantial periods of time, allowing for enjoyment of the environment. The calmness of these periods was palpable. Programs that ran the engine for long periods seemed to drag on, partly because, in some cases, verbal communication was nearly impossible. Quiet should be provided in order to allow students to appreciate the full array of sensory experiences on the open water. Engine-reliant vessels can do this in favorable weather.
In some cases, it may be prudent to start offering OWEE programs from a single point (especially on small bodies of water). Docking at several or many locations, however, seems to be a worthwhile goal. One of the most important advantages to offering programs from multiple points may be to reach students from a variety of communities. For example, it would be a shame to establish a program on Lake Champlain and run it only from Burlington, Vermont. This would probably limit the service area to the northern half of Vermont, excluding the poorer communities in southern Vermont and in New York State.
The data from the mail survey showed that, when programs docked at more than one location, they tended to have higher attendance numbers (see Table 5). Docking at multiple points, then, may be a way to boost numbers of students served, and also cover a larger portion of the watershed in the educational effort.
In several different ways, it appears wise to obtain as much support from schools as possible, whether financial or curricular. Although not all programs may want to be as tightly knit with schools as Project Oceanology is, results from the mail survey seem to indicate that collaborating with schools has benefits (see Table 4).
It is probably a good idea to own a boat rather than to charter it. Ownership will allow for more flexibility in scheduling and range of travel. Boats are not always expensive to obtain; often boats are donated to programs, as was the case with several boats owned by surveyed programs. Owning a visually impressive boat can create a programs name recognition. This is less likely or useful with a charter boat that you may use for a limited amount of time.
OWEE programs would be better off if more of them conducted systematic evaluations of their own programs. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation conducts several types of formal evaluations of their programs and staff, and their programs appeared to benefit from this process. Other interviewees depicted their evaluations as somewhat haphazard. Lack of formal evaluations vulnerable because most supporting institutions expect to see some concrete evidence of results or effects.
Need for Future Study
This study was an initial foray into the basic characteristics and types of OWEE programs currently existing in the United States. It may be that the field can be described in different or broader ways. It is likely that many more OWEE programs exist than I was able to locate. Perhaps more importantly, however, OWEE programs should be evaluated for their effectiveness. Do participating students learn science better after attending one or more OWEE programs? Do they remember the experience they had on the program for years, and does this influence their beliefs or behavior?
Some of the specific additional studies that would be useful include:
Need for a Directory of OWEE Programs
One of the first steps in improving and encouraging new OWEE programs would be to publish a directory. I have a preliminary directory resulting from this thesis, but I have heard of many other programs that I have not been able to investigate. A directory should include basic information about each program. This would enable programs to contact each other, learn from each other, and perhaps pursue various kinds of collaborations such as sharing empirical water quality data via the Internet.
The directory might also create the impetus for the field of Open-Water Environmental Education to recognize itself in a formal way, and begin holding conferences, workshops, or subsets of larger conferences (such as the National Marine Educators Association Conference), and also to post a web page on the Internet. Consolidation of the field could lead to applying jointly for federal, state, or other grant money in order to support the development of new programs and to improve existing programs.
Need for a "How-to" Handbook
A handbook would complement the directory, and could also be derived largely from elements of this study. Such a handbook should probably describe options for curriculum, water quality monitoring, boat logistics, and administration, and suggest steps for deciding which options to choose. Other kinds of information the handbook might include are:
A way to strengthen the handbook would be to collaborate with one or two existing OWEE programs in writing detailed descriptions of various practices and administrative structures that keep programs running smoothly.
The handbook could be funded and/or distributed by one or more of several interested entities. Among these are: NOAA Sea Grant Colleges, the North American Lake Management Society, the American Sail Training Association, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Steps for a Lake Champlain Program
Several isolated projects taking students out on Lake Champlain for educational purposes operate sporadically during the school year. The Essex Vocational Technical Center has a pontoon boat that it launches in Malletts Bay with students. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum now takes teenagers out in kayaks and canoes, but these are only summer programs. The University of Vermonts research vessel Melosira sometimes takes school groups out, but the trips are relatively expensive for schools and happen on an irregular basis. Other boats, such as The Spirit of Ethan Allen, take students out on an irregular basis as well. These trips tend to be more recreational than educational.
What appears to be lacking is a regular, school-year program that takes out large numbers of students and focuses on the ecology and general environment of Lake Champlain. Most of the schools in the basin do not have the ability to send their students on an Open-Water Environmental Education Program.
This does not have to be the case, and the University of Vermont, the Lake Champlain Basin Science Center, and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum appear to be well placed to fill this void. If these entities (and others concerned with aquatic education regarding the lake) chose to pursue the establishment of an OWEE program, I would recommend the following initial steps:
The first stage of a Lake Champlain OWEE program might:
Starting an Open-Water Environmental Education program on a body of water could reach children through rich, immediate experiences. Open-Water Environmental Education is an organizing focus for learning that can appeal to students multiple intelligences and their need to direct their own discoveries. This type of education may be ideal for realizing one of the central educational goals of John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Kurt Lewin: development toward a life of purpose and self-direction.
The open-water experience may be one of the most powerful ways to encourage students to turn their purposes, at least in part, toward a lifetime of stewarding aquatic ecosystems. Conservation organizations interested in raising awareness about local watersheds would do well to make use of this versatile educational tool.
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Appendix A: Structured Interview
for Administrators of Open-water Environmental Education Programs
1. What was the spark for creating this program?
Follow-up: In what ways do you keep that spark alive?
2. How do you determine the success of your open-water educational programs?
Follow-up: How do you build on your successes?
3. What are the main challenges or difficulties that you experience?
4. If you had to describe the kind of program you conduct, what would you call it?
Follow-up: Explain why you describe it this way.
5. How would you describe the programs educational philosophy?
Follow-up: How has this philosophy evolved over time?
Appendix B: Mail Survey Instrument
Appendix B: Mail Survey Instrument (contd)
Appendix C: Summary Statistics
Aside from revealing similarities and differences among programs, the mail survey data also yielded summary information about the participating programs in general. The following table describes the ranges, means, and medians of some parameters with measurable ranges.
Table 7: Summary Statistics
Attendance on Only
|Level of Insurance ($)||Average Boat Purchase Costs ($)||Annual
Boat Maintenance Costs ($)
Appendix D: Salient Points in Written Comments on Surveys
(q# = question number on mail survey)
Student Water Quality Monitoring
Appendix E: Table of Fee Structures
Responses to the mail survey question on fees charged to school groups drew a variety of responses, from which no single summary statistic could be derived. Therefore, the responses are tabulated here.
Table 8: Fee Structures Described on Mail Surveys
|Per Trip||Per person||Per hour||Per day||Other|
|"$500 for school sail charter; individual rate $11 to $25 per person" (and higher charter rates for non-school groups)||"1. Per-person fee, 2. Charter rate for minimum number, then per person over"||"Based on length of trip"||"Vessel costs average $1,200-$1,300/day"||"Cost of vessel and crew"|
|"Average school fee is $700 for 40 students with $600 sponsorship"||"$10 to $483, depending on length and nature of program" (this is a 1-5 day trip)||"About $100/hr. for students" [groups]||"$750 for ½-day program, $1,500 for full-day program"||"Membership schools are charged a rate based on enrollment and get a number of trips accordingly"|
|"$400 on-season, $275 off-season"||"$12 per person; 1 adult free with every 15 kids"||Two surveys noted that amount charged to students on a sliding fee ("as able")|
|"$800 per 3-hour trip for school groups" (and more for non-school groups)||"$9 per student"||"Students pay a small fee per trip. Trips are subsidized by state contracts."|
|"Varies by big boat vs. small boat and peak season vs. fringe season; $450 per class is average"||"$5 to $38"|
Appendix F: Directory of Studied Programs
Apalachicola Maritime Museum, Inc. (Governor Stone); (904) 653-8707; P.O. Box 625, Apalachicola, FL 32329-0625
Chesapeake Bay Foundation; (410) 268-8816 (Annapolis), (410) 269-0481 (Baltimore); 162 Prince George St., Annapolis, MD 21401
The Delaware Bay Schooner Project (A.J. Meerwald); (609) 785-2060; P.O. Box 57, Dorchester, NJ 08316
The Discovery Hall Program, Dauphin Island Sea Lab; (334) 861-2141; P.O. Box 369-370, Dauphin Island, AL 36528
Echo Hill Outdoor School; (410) 348-5880; 13655 Blooming Neck Rd., Worton, MD 21678
Great Lakes Education Program, Michigan State University Extension; (810) 469-5180; email: GLEP2000@umich.edu; 21885 Dunham Rd., Suite 12, Clinton Township, MI 48036
Harold K. Acker; (301) 946-0621; 3105 Weller Rd., Silver Spring, MD 20906
Hawaiian Chieftain; (415) 331-3214; Suite 266, 3020 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA 94965
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater; (800) 67SLOOP or (914) 454-7673; 112 Market St., Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises, Cape Cod Floating Classroom; (800) 287-0374; e-mail: email@example.com; P.O. Box 254, Barnstable Harbor, Barnstable, Cape Cod, MA 02630
Inland Seas Education Association (Inland Seas); (616) 271-3077; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; P.O. Box 218, Suttons Bay, MI 49682
Jack Russell; Box 134, Piney Pt., MD 20674
Lake George Association, Floating Classroom; (518) 668-3558; P.O. Box 408, Lake George, NY 12845
Maine Maritime Academy (Bowdoin); (207) 326-4311; Castine, ME 04420
The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk; (203) 852-0700; 10 N. Water St., Norwalk, CT 06854-2228
Port Townsend Marine Science Center; Fort Worden State Park, 532 Battery Way, Port Townsend, WA 98368
New England Aquarium, Science at Sea; (617) 973-5208; Central Wharf, Boston, MA 02110-3399
Project Oceanology; (203) 445-9007; Avery Pt., Groton, CT 06340
Rover Marine, Inc. (American Rover); (757) 627-SAIL; P.O. Box 3125, Norfolk, VA 23514-3125
Tabor Academy (Tabor Boy); Marion, MA 02738
University of Puerto Rico, Marine Sciences Museum; P.O. Box 5000, 00681-5000, Mayagues, PR 00708
Virginia Marine Science Museum; (804) 437-4949; 717 General Booth Boulevard, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
Voyager Cruises (Argia); (860) 536-0416; 73 Steamboat Wharf, Mystic, CT 06355
Wooden Boat Foundation (360) 385-3628; 380 Jefferson St., Port Townsend, WA 98368
Appendix G: Photographs of Student Activities on Board