PBL: Protecting the Ocean

Dana Nuenighoff

At the beginning of the semester, when the high school students are first introduced to their PBL’s driving question, the future projection of the course is unknown. It depends on the passion and drive of the students to complete this project. I always try to remember this fact when I plan a new PBL. I ask myself, what do our students care about? How can they feel as though they are making a difference?

This past semester, my Project Based Learning Class was inspired by Sylvia Earle’s 2009 Ted Talk, Wish, where she asked for help in protecting the oceans. It is constantly said that this new generation has inherited the problems of the world, and that they need to take action to fix it. This PBL allowed the students the opportunity to begin to do so.

Their goal at the end of the semester was to complete the nomination form for a Hope Spot, an area of the ocean in which they feel needs protection. Prior to filling out the form, the students had to choose an area they felt best represented one or more of the six categories of a Hope Spot. After extensive research and discussion, they chose the mouth of the Merrimack River. From there, they learned that they did not only need research to convince the Hope Spot council, but public and government support.  

The students worked quickly to gain support for their cause.  They penned emails to Essex County Green Belt and the Merrimack River Watershed Council.  Both responded with lengthy letters fully supporting our students Hope Spot efforts.  Then, they emailed our State Senator, James Kelcourse, and sat down with his assistant, Kelsey Crowley, to secure a letter of support.  

When PBL Night came around, this group was able to showcase and fully articulate a plan to protect endangered wildlife in the Merrimack River through the creation of a Hope Spot. They have a completed proposal that is now in the hands of experts such as Sylvia Earle.  I hope that each of these students finished this course with a sense of accomplishment that they can make a lasting change in our world.  This PBL was successful because of the dedication these students put into it.