Estuaries offer a wonderfully rich context for science education and interdisciplinary learning. With a daily flux of ocean flows mingling with river water, estuaries create a remarkably diverse range of life and ecosystems, offering learners a convergence of such fields as Earth systems science, biology, chemistry, geography, geology, and marine science.
For example, students develop math skills through detailed measurements, modeling phenomena such as growth and cyclical variation, and analyzing data to make comparisons among estuaries. They develop language skills as they read and write about estuary-related topics and communicate their explorations and findings with other students and scientists. Since estuaries played a significant role in human settlement, exploration and development, students gain new eyes on human history, geography, and culture.
Most estuarine concepts and skills are part of the national and state science standards. Although the word “estuaries” per se may not appear prominently in the Next Generation Science Standards and many state standards, the underlying science concepts embodied in estuaries have broad connections throughout the standards.
For example, the national standards refer to understanding “Earth as a system” with interwoven cycles and processes relating to land, air, and water. Estuaries provide engaging and accessible examples of these processes at work. Estuaries also integrate key concepts in biology (e.g., habitat adaptations), chemistry (e.g., salinity analysis), and physics (e.g., wave motions). Furthermore, national standards call for engaging in scientific investigation through building skills and knowledge by providing a space for tackling complex ideas or problem solving, hands-on experiments, direct observations, and active use of data—all of which occur as students engage in with Estuaries 101.
Students also gain an appreciation for the importance of estuaries in their lives and learn how their behavior impacts coastal ecosystems. Students learn the crucial connection between estuaries, coastal, and upland areas, and the effects of a growing population.