Resources for California Educators

Lending Library | Additional Resources Supported By WHALE TAIL® Funds
California Environmental Education Interagency Network | California Environmental Education Events Calendar

California Coastal Commission Resources and Programs

South Cardiff State Beach by Nicholas Paoni

WHALE TAIL®   Grants Program
Schools are eligible to apply to the WHALE TAIL®   Grants Program for funding to support coastal and marine education projects. Educators reaching underserved communities, including multicultural and inland areas, are especially encouraged to submit proposals. You may request up to $50,000 and applications are accepted once a year in the fall.

California Coastal Voices
California Coastal Voices
is a free, project-based learning guide and online toolkit for middle and high school teachers. Consisting of six units, or "projects," that introduce students to coastal conflicts, challenges, and scientific and policy issues, the emphasis is on problem solving and communication. This learning guide was designed to address California's Next Generation Science, Common Core, and History-Social Science standards. Download teacher resources and student activities and access slideshows, videos, articles, and much more.

Schoolyard Cleanup Program
Want your students to participate in Coastal Cleanup Day but can't get them out on a field trip to a beach or local waterway? Want to show them that environmentally responsible behavior can begin at their school and in their own neighborhood? Interested in a real world data collection and problem-solving experience that takes place right on school grounds and supports your Next Generation Science Standards? You can organize a Schoolyard Cleanup and accomplish all of these goals.

Coming Together for the Climate Video Challenge
Climate change is a global problem that has many local implications. It impacts all of us, and it will take all of us working together to face it. With this understanding in mind, the Coastal Commission invites California middle and high school students to present a video response to the question, "How do we come together for the climate?" The entry deadline for this video challenge is March 31, 2020

King Tides Project and Sea Level Rise
The California King Tides Project offers many opportunities for students and teachers in science and humanities. Get ideas on how to incorporate this project into your classes and also find sea level rise education resources on the King Tides Resources for Educators page.

Coastal Art and Poetry Contest
The California Coastal Commission invites all California students in grades K-12 to participate in the Coastal Art & Poetry Contest. The deadline to submit entries is at the end of January.

Build Personal Fishing Line Containers
Student groups can help keep fishing line out of our environment by taking part in the Stow It Don't Throw It program. Students collect used tennis ball (or similar) packaging and construct personal fishing line canisters that help people keep their used line contained until they can get it to a recycling station or dispose of it safely in the garbage. Our Clean Boating Program will distribute the containers you construct or your students can take them directly to fishing piers, marinas, or boating supply stores to get them into the hands of people who need them.

Waves, Wetlands, and Watersheds Science Activity Guide
Waves, Wetlands, and Watersheds
is a classroom and community activity guide, first printed in 2003, that addresses issues such as endangered species, marine debris, coastal geology, water use, and much more. It is carefully aligned to the California State Science Content Standards for grades 3 through 8, and includes “Community Action” lessons adaptable for all ages up to and beyond 12th grade. The guide is available for free from the California Coastal Commission. Call or email for more information or to request an orientation workshop for your area.

Interns working at Upper Newport Bay native plant nursery

Our Wetlands, Our World High School Activity Guide
Our Wetlands, Our World provides information and activities to help high school students learn about the importance of wetlands and to become involved in the restoration of these valuable, unique environments. It also helps bring State Content Standards to life by linking science concepts to local resources. The focus of this 2004 guide is on Upper Newport Bay in Orange County; however, much of the information is applicable to other wetland sites.

Personal Trash Choices Activity
This group activity for youth or adults asks participants to think about and to argue for how they relate to trash items in their lives.

Plastic Properties Investigation
This demonstration or small group activity has students investigating the phenomenon of a plastic bottle in water. Does it float? Does it sink? What are the implications of its properties?

Gallery of Sand
View magnified photos of sand from more than 25 beaches, which can be used to support sand-related lessons in Waves, Wetlands, and Watersheds or as phenomena to launch other student work.

Measuring a Blue Whale in the Schoolyard
Blue whales are the largest animals known to have lived on earth, and they can be seen right off the coast of California! Just how big are they? Could a blue whale fit in your schoolyard? This schoolyard activity offers three methods of increasing complexity for comparing length and height of large objects.

Save Our Seas Curriculum
Save Our Seas
is a marine curriculum of hands-on activities to help students understand the effects of marine debris on coastal wildlife and habitats. Written in 1993, it was designed for K-12 grades and can be used in conjunction with a beach cleanup.  Request on our online Order Form.

Educator's Guide to Beach Cleanups
This Educator's Guide provides specific tips for teachers, parents, and youth group leaders who plan to do a cleanup with their students, whether for Coastal Cleanup Day, the Adopt-A-Beach Program, or independently, at a beach, shoreline, or inland location. It includes practical strategies, links to lessons and internet resources to enrich the experience, and more.

Save Our Seas Seal Poster
Educational poster (see image) illustrating the problems that marine debris pose for marine animals. Large text reads: "Thousands of species live on the California coast. Only one is destroying it." Please limit your request to one poster per instructor/classroom. Request on our online Order Form.

Coastal Stewardship Pledge
The Coastal Steward Class Pledge contains activities specifically chosen for the classroom (with background information on each activity) to take action to protect our coast and ocean.

Adopt-A-Beach® is a year ‘round program that encourages the public to help keep our beaches clean. In order to "adopt" a local beach, volunteers agree to clean the beach at least three times a year. (We will accept school groups that can only make it out for one day.) Thousands of civic organizations and schools have taken advantage of this opportunity to be a part of the solution to ocean pollution. The program is free. Recycling bags and trash bags are provided. Find associated lesson plans and other tips in our Educator's Guide to Beach Cleanups.

Coastal Cleanup Day
Every year on Coastal Cleanup Day, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide clean up debris and fill out data cards that track the types of litter collected from our beaches and waterways. This data is compiled to form a powerful statement about the quality of our beaches and oceans. In California, the cleanup takes place at over 700 sites from San Diego to the Oregon border and as far inland as Lake Tahoe. The broad scope of Cleanup Day demonstrates that marine debris and ocean pollution are watershed problems, and that litter in your neighborhood may eventually end up in the ocean. Coastal Cleanup Day is held on the third Saturday in September. Find associated lesson plans and other tips in our Educator's Guide to Beach Cleanups.

California Environmental Education Interagency Network

The California Environmental Education Interagency Network (CEEIN) is a state government consortium of environmental educators representing various state agencies and departments. Learn about CEEIN and the many environmental education resources available from the State of California and its partners, and access a statewide calendar of environmental education events and opportunties.  

Lending Library

The following videos, DVDs, and CDs are available for online viewing or for loan to California educators. They are available for a two-week period and the only cost to you is the return postage. A $25 charge is applied for each item not returned. Please fill out our online Order Form.

Please note: Some of the DVDs listed are burned discs. Please request VHS tapes if you are unsure if your player will read burned DVDs.
(If the DVD doesn't work in your DVD player, try viewing it in a computer.)
Art by kindergartener Sanjani Thambala


VIDEO - Recommended Online Viewing and to Borrow from our Library:

General ocean and marine species:

  • Between a Rock & a Hard Place - 17 minutes. Grades 2-6. Prepares students for an ecologically responsible tidepool visit. Recommended for viewing before a field trip. 2002. Request VHS or DVD from Order Form.

  • The Biology of Seashores - 30 minutes, subtitled enabled. Grades 9-12. Includes information about abiotic and biotic factors and animal adaptations for wave shock, defense, feeding, and reproduction. An image bank teaching guide is accessible using a computer DVD drive. 2006. Request DVD from Order Form.

  • Invaders from Around the World - 6:25 minutes. Grades 4 to 6. Explanation of invasive species, from USC Sea Grant. Watch online in English or Spanish.

  • Know Your Ocean - 2:37 minutes. All ages. Some general ocean info and fun facts from NOAA. Streaming, downloadable and captioned.

  • Return Flight - Restoring the Bald Eagle to the Channel Islands - 24 minute version and 14 minute version with 6 bonus clips. Grades 6 and up. Chronicles how biologists worked for decades to bring the bald eagle back to the Channel Islands in the face of pervasive DDT contamination. 2011. Watch 14 minute version online. Download a free Classroom Study Guide for Grades 6 to 12 from NOAA Montrose Settlements Restoration Program. Request DVD from Order Form.

  • Sea of Sound - 30:45 minutes feature, 21 minutes interview. Grades 7-12. Dive beneath the waves to explore an emerging realm: the rich diversity of underwater sounds. Includes DVD ROM elements with classroom lessons. 2011. Request DVD from Order Form.

  • Secrets of the Bay - 28 minutes. All ages. Reveals the magnificent wildlife hidden in the San Francisco Bay Area. 1990. Request VHS or DVD from Order Form.

  • Surf, Sand, and Silversides - the California Grunion - 20 minutes. A documentary about the natural phenomenon of midnight runs and the challenges a native fish species faces on southern California's most popular urban beaches. 2011. Request DVD from Order Form.
Students on a field trip to Seaside, photo Lauren Krohmer  

Marine debris:

  • The Adopt-A-Beach® School Assembly Program - 21 minutes. Grades 3 and up. The Malibu Foundation for Environmental Education produced this DVD, which includes excerpts from a live assembly program for students about the sources and impacts of marine debris. 2009. This item will be yours to keep; it does not need to be returned. Request DVD from Order Form.

  • Gyre: Creating Art From a Plastic Ocean - 20:14 minutes. Grades 7 and up. National Geographic program shows an artists' expedition to Alaska with the goal to make art from the trash found on the beaches. Watch online.

  • Midway Journey - Bottle Caps - 4:18 minutes. Grades 4 and up. Examining the carcass of a Laysan albatross, and the plastic contents of its stomach, with the Deputy Wildlife Manager of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Watch online.

  • Midway Journey - Plastic Beach - 2:25 minutes. The seemingly endless deposition of plastic debris onto a single beach on Midway Island. All ages, however this does not present any solutions, just the problem. Watch online.

  • Ocean Heroes: The Plastics Problem - 5 Gyres Institute - 2:17 minutes. Grades 9 and up. One World One Ocean interview with Anna Cummins and Marcus Erickson about plastic pollution in the ocean. Watch online.

  • Our Debris Filling the Sea - 2:36 minutes. Grades 4 and up. NOAA presents the marine debris problem. Streaming, downloadable and captioned.

  • Saving Inky - 20:25 minutes. A video for all ages about a pygmy sperm whale that ingested plastics from the ocean, was treated at the Baltimore Aquarium and then set free. 1994. (Video available for viewing online in three parts.) Request VHS or DVD from Order Form.

  • Synthetic Sea: Plastics in the Ocean - 9 minutes. Grades 7 and up. An alarming look at the role plastics is playing in our waters, specifically the Pacific Ocean. 2001. Request VHS, DVD, or Spanish DVD from Order Form.

  • Trash in the Deep Sea: Bringing a Hidden Problem to Light - 4:12 minutes. Grades 4 and up. Describes Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute's research into debris in the deep ocean. Watch online.

  • The Trash Troll - 12:30 minutes. Grades K-5. Teaches children the impacts of beach trash on marine animals. 1993. Request VHS or DVD from Order Form.

  • Troubled Waters: Plastic in the Marine Environment - 28:30 minutes. Grades 7 and up. This 1992 video from the Center for Marine Conservation (now The Ocean Conservancy) addresses marine debris issues with a focus on ocean-based sources. 1992. (Watch this video online.) Request VHS or DVD from Order Form.

  • Plastics at SEA, North Pacific Expedition - Grades 7 and up. Several short videos documenting a research voyage of the Sea Education Association. Watch online.

Students working with Tolowa Dunes Stewards

Climate change:

  • Carbon and Climate Change in 90 Seconds - 2:21 minutes. Grades 4 and up. Climate change explained in simple animation, from NASA. Watch this video online.

  • Keeping Up with Carbon - 5:39 minutes. Grades 7 and up. The carbon cycle, as it relates to the ocean, and climate change, from NASA Watch this video online.

  • Oceans of Climate Change - 2:21 minutes. Grades 4 and up. An oceanographer discusses the heat capacity of water, performs an experiment to demonstrate heat capacity using a water balloon and describes how water's ability to store heat affects Earth's climate. NASA. Watch this video online.

  • The Role of Ice in the Ocean: Shrinking Ice: Impacts - 2:26 minutes. Grades 7 and up. Streaming, downloadable and captioned.

  • The Role of Ice in the Ocean: What is Sea Ice and Why Is It Shrinking? - 2:09 minutes. Grades 4 and up. Streaming, downloadable and captioned.

Ocean acidification:

  • The Acid Ocean - 3:00 minutes. Grades 7 and up. Explanation of ocean acidification with a visual demonstration of coral in vinegar and a discussion of real world impacts. From Hopkins Marine Station. Watch online.

  • Acid Test: the Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification - 22 min., grades 9 and up. Produced by NRDC, this video raises awareness of the problem of ocean acidification, stemming from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 2009. (Watch this video online and download an ocean acidification lab kit from NRDC.) Request DVD from Order Form

  • Ocean Acidification - 3:01 minutes. Grades 7 and up. Animated explanation of ocean acidification by the Alliance for Climate Education. Watch online.

  • Ocean Acidification - 1:49 minutes. Grades 7 and up. The chemistry of ocean acidification, from North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Watch online.

Community engagement and coastal management:

  • California Coastal Trail videos - Multiple videos of around 5 minutes each. Grades 4 and up. A series of short videos tell the story of segments of the California Coastal Trail, including what visitors experience there and the journey to getting the trail built. 2016-2017 Watch these videos online.
  • Coastal Clash - 60 minutes. Grades 8 and up. Looks at issues of beach access, development, and the many sides of the struggle for California's beaches. 2005. Find associated lessons and further information from KQED. Request VHS or DVD from Order Form.

  • Heroes of the Coast - 52 minutes. Grades 9 and up. Recounts the political campaigns in the 1970s that passed the California Coastal Act and created the California Coastal Commission, told through interviews with activists and political leaders of the movement. 2013. Request DVD from Order Form.

  • The California MPA Network: Safeguarding an Underwater Wilderness - 10 minutes. Grades 9 and up. Learn how MPAs work, the resources they protect, and the people on the front lines working to make them a success. 2018. Watch online.

  • A Sheltered Sea—The Southern Passage - 26 minutes. Grades 9 and up. Addresses the challenges in creating Marine Protected Areas along southern California's coast. 2009. Watch this video online or request DVD from Order Form.

Coastal processes, watersheds, and tsunami:


  • Can the Oceans Keep Up with the Hunt - 30 minutes. Grades 9 and up. Discusses the exhaustion of fish populations due to over-fishing; includes exerpts from Empty Oceans, Empty Nets and information on aquaculture. PBS offers an online activity guide associated with this video. 2006. Request DVD from Order Form.

  • Empty Oceans, Empty Nets - 55 minutes. Grades 9 and up. Examines the global commercial fishing crisis as well as exploring promising solutions to overfishing. 2002. PBS offers an online activity guide associated with this video. Request VHS or DVD from Order Form.


Additional Resources

Photo Marie Hernandez. Child and woman on Ocean Beach The following curricula were developed by other organizations with the support of the WHALE TAIL®   Grant Program.

Agua Pura: Examining Salmon and Steelhead in California Communities
This Salmon and Steelhead Curriculum targets sixth-grade students both in and out of the classroom through multi-disciplinary, hands-on instruction. It covers information on these critical fish species, highlights their relationship with healthy watersheds, and explores how people affect salmon and steelhead and vice versa. The unit was created by UC Cooperative Extension and Adopt-A-Watershed in 2010.

Albatross Research and Plastic Pollution Prevention
Activities about plastics and seabirds were developed by the organization Oikonos and updated in 2014 to guide teachers of students in grades 8 - high school. Activities include dissecting an albatross bolus, categorizing the plastics they eat, learning about albatrosses, and tracking them via satellite.

Carbon Footprint Calculator
Designed for middle school students and older, this carbon footprint calculator can estimate how much C02 you consume per year based on practices at home, food you eat, purchases you make, and your transportation habits. Offered in English and Spanish, this was developed in 2018 as part of a collaboration between the University of Washington and Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station.

A Guide to the Side of the Sea,
A Teacher's Guide for Field Trips to Rocky Intertidal Areas

A Guide to the Side of the Sea was produced by California State Parks in 2005. It is designed to assist teachers who will be taking their students to visit tidepools. This resource includes science background for educators as well as lessons and activities that can be used before, during, and after a field trip.

MARE Program (Marine Activities, Resources, & Education)
The Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley developed teacher's guides to marine environments for grades K-8, with each grade focused on a particular habitat. Students at entire schools can participate together for an "ocean immersion" experience. A WHALE TAIL® grant in 2015 funded aligning the units for kindergarten and 1st grade with the Next Generation Science Standards as well as Common Core standards.

Roots to Waves
The SPAWN Program of Turtle Island Restoration Network trained educators from a variety of cultural backgrounds to become Certified California Naturalists. As the capstone project for their training in 2017, they developed educational resources which are now available to download and use. Check out a bilingual bird guide, Spanish-language nature bingo, a guide to sea turtles, handouts about Chinese immigrants and shrimp in San Francisco Bay, and more.

Youth Exploring Sea Level Rise Science Educator Guide
YESS developed a series of sea level rise lessons for high school students in 2016 through a WHALE TAIL® grant to the County of Marin. This series involves hands-on, experiential learning and covers: an introduction to sea level rise causes and impacts; how to collect data, including collecting photographs through the California King Tides Project and interviewing community members; and sharing the results of student research. Includes links to many related resources.

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