One of the biggest interests I have in my life is in STEM education. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. I believe it is of paramount importance that STEM education is valued in our society. That's why I was so excited to learn about a brand-new program launching right here in the DMV, called EarthEcho Expedition. EarthEcho Expedition is part of EarthEcho International, a non-profit with interest in conservation, environmental education, and preserving watersheds around the world.
I met with Philippe Cousteau Jr, who is the founder of EarthEcho International. Does his name sound familiar? Philippe is the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, and has continued the family tradition of scientific discovery and environmental conservation through several nonprofit groups and initiatives, including EarthEcho. His latest project is specifically targeted at middle and high school students. The goal is to get students directly involved in the process of improving their local waterways. But this is not a side project or an extra-curricular activity, like so many similar projects. Instead, EarthEcho Expedition was painstakingly designed to comply with federal and state education standards, so that science teachers can use the program in place of a textbook-based curriculum! Philippe says, "all (teachers) have to do is go to our website. Everything is broken up so they can look at it by how it's aligned to (academic) standards. There are worksheets and action guides attached to everything."
EarthEcho Expedition's very first project is right here at home-- in the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake is home to diverse wildlife, but it is also the home of a so-called "dead zone", where fish and other marine life cannot survive because the water has insufficient levels of oxygen. This has drastically impacted the oyster population locally. Philippe says, "currently, there's 1% of the historic population of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. It used to be a large industry that employed a lot of people... it's an issue about economics, about our cultural heritage, as much as it is about protecting the animals in the environment."
One of the best parts about EarthEcho Expedition is that the program is free for teachers to use. All the materials are accessible online. Teachers who are already using the program say they're noticing a change in the way their students learn about science, Mary Breslin, a science teacher at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, says, "Once I found these types of curriculums that actually got our kids involved in collecting real data, that's where I saw the engagement really grow... For me, the real experience is really getting our students out there, so they can see and feel and be a part of their watershed."