Oceans in the Classroom

We hope to deepen youth education and appreciation for our oceans through in-person experiences through the world of liquid space.

Photo of Max Gotts
2 10

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Additional categories (optional)

  • Education

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The oceans are vital to Earth and our continued survival—with far-reaching effects on carbon cycling, food supply, environmental justice, and more—yet we continue to abuse and exploit this ecosystem. The coral reefs alone support more than a quarter of all marine life, but comprise just 0.1% of the ocean. In short, our reefs are suffering massively from human impact. Ignorance is at the root of this destruction, which we intend to redress.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

The solution to ignorance is education, and marine science education is sorely lacking in high schools across the nation—ours is no exception. The Nueva School has a dearth of oceanic curricular in spite of its students’ significant interest, and following our school’s motto “Learn by doing, learn by caring,” we have embarked on a grand-scale quest. Namely, we are attempting to install the ocean in our halls via a coral reef tank. By recreating such a fundamental ecosystem in our own school, we are instilling in students the importance of our oceans, whilst simultaneously creating a marine laboratory to perform novel experiments on. The creation of this aquarium will give Nueva the tools they need to teach classes both faculty and students want taught. Our aquarium will be a coral reef. We already have water cycling, a tank set up, and soon to be damselfish gracing its presence. However, managing the ocean chemistry within a saltwater aquarium is an incredible balancing act. Calcium, nitrates, phosphates, and other trace minerals, finicky but critical components of a functioning reef, perform a chemical ballet that one cannot understand without hands-on experience.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

As citizens of the Bay Area, we feel a strong allegiance to the sea. It is no hyperbole to say that the Bay and our homes are deeply entwined. Salty deltas, winding tidal rivers, and smaller bays cut into our Californian coast, bringing with them the songs of the sea. Recently, on a school trip, our dean of students expressed an interest in a class putting together a school aquarium. An encomium to the sea as much as it was a research tool, students could test hypotheses on a living model, a reef within the classroom. We immediately urged faculty to put together such a class. However, with the bureaucracy all institutions are infamous for, no such class could be put together in the limited time. Still impassioned, a small group of us decided to pursue this avenue without heed of the admin’s inaction. We would create the aquarium ourselves.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Each student at our high school, the Nueva School will be able to interact and view the reef each and every day. Even though we live so close to shore, the underwater world and everything it holds is a mystery to so many students. This coral tank bring just a small sliver of that world up to shore, into the halls of the Nueva campus, in order to spur interest and passion for marine sciences. In addition to just viewing, the tank will be incorporated into classes and other activities within the school, and through tank maintenance, nutrient cycling and monitoring, and so much more, students will come to understand just how sensitive these important ecosystems are, and how specific effects of global warming, ocean acidification, and pollution and can have enormous ramifications on marine life.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Unfortunately, few high schools have marine science programs themselves. Other programs hope to bring nurture interest in schools through VR or other digital means, but anyone that has experienced a coral reef, beach, or any other marine ecosystem can attest that digital media is no surrogate for the real experience. Alternative experiences like aquariums lack opportunities for students to become involved in the tanks, and interact with maintenance in a meaningful way. Our goal is to use care itself as a means of education, and not just a chore that facilitates deeper learning.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

At a recent clubs fair, we brought out our tank—an empty, grubby, plexiglass box—and wrote on it the words “Marine Biology.” Despite there being film-watching clubs, “meat clubs” (we don’t know either) and French clubs, we enlisted an amazing 20% of the entire student population in signups. People ask us about the aquarium and what we are doing everyday in the halls. You could say our little aquarium is making waves. With a little help, this aquarium could become an emblem of The Nueva School, a part of its consciousness. But forget the aquarium,beach cleanups, tidepooling sessions, and documentary screenings. Imagine the school in twenty years. If this coral reef embeds itself in Nueva’s culture, then marine biology steps into the limelight in the administration’s eyes. A single tank will be nothing in comparison to the number of marine bio majors Nueva might put out.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

While we have already made progress by spreading awareness and working with the administration at our school to develop new programs, there is always more work to be done. In terms of a live tank, while we have begun the process of cycling water with live rock(in order to breed beneficial bacteria in the water), there is still so much to do before we are able to sustain coral. Coral are incredibly nuanced and sensitive animals, requiring a delicate balance of nitrate, calcium, pH, phosphorous, and other biological systems. While we may have student and faculty support in this endeavor, we are unfortunately lacking financial backing, and the next steps to support coral are the most expensive.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Research

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Donations less than $100

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 33.3%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 66.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 66.7%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 66.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 100%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 66.7%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anonymous anonymous

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Photo of Aster M

Hi Max! Kemi and I are from the Bay Area too. What an interesting topic! We really like how your proposal uses hands-on engagement to entice people into learning about marine sciences. Here are some questions we think might be helpful to think about: What do you think will be the larger impact from garnering people’s interest in marine sciences? How do you plan on making the tank sustainable? That is to say, how do you plan on ensuring the tank’s maintenance after you graduate?