Resources for California Educators

Coastal Commission Programs and Resources | Recommended Streaming Videos | California Environmental Education Interagency Network | California Environmental Education Events Calendar


California Coastal Commission Resources and Programs

South Cardiff State Beach by Nicholas Paoni

At-Home Learning Resources
Find a wide variety of lessons and activities that work well at home, appropriate for teachers and parents of students kindergarten through high school.

Environmental Justice Resources for Educators and Students
Learn about the concept and history of environmental justice, and access videos and classroom lessons for middle and high school students.

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.

Climate Video Challenge
The Coastal Commission invites California middle and high school students to present a video response to the question, "What is your vision for a thriving future?" The entry deadline for this video challenge is at the end of May.

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.

WHALE TAIL®   Grants Program
Schools (as well as nonprofits, tribes, and other government entities) are eligible to apply to the WHALE TAIL® Grants Program for funding to support coastal and marine education projects. We strongly encourage projects that engage communities that have historically received fewer opportunities for coastal and marine education and stewardship. 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 any time of year and accomplish all of these goals.

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.

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.

Learn about Oil Spills and Marine Debris.

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. With groups of lessons for each grade 3 through 8 and Community Action lessons adaptable for all ages up to and beyond 12th grade.

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. The focus of this 2004 guide is on Upper Newport Bay in Orange County, however, most of the content is applicable to other locations.

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.  Download a PDF.

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.

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.

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.

Recommended Streaming Videos

Art by kindergartener Sanjani Thambala

Community engagement and coastal management:

  • 40 Years of the California Coastal Act - 5:22 minutes. Grades 6 and up. This historic law has guided California to maximize public access to and along the coast. 2019, Rigler Creative. Watch

  • 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. 2016-2019, Rigler Creative. Watch
  • 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, EarthAlertGlobal. Watch

  • Public Access for All on the California Coast - 5:08 minutes. Grades 6 and up. How is California protecting public access to the coast, and what are the challenges to this goal? 2019, Rigler Creative. Watch

  • 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, California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Watch

  • 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, The Baum Foundation. Watch

Climate change:

  • Carbon and Climate Change in 90 Seconds - 2:21 minutes. Grades 4 and up. Climate change explained in simple animation. 2013, NASA. Watch

  • Keeping Up with Carbon - 5:39 minutes. Grades 7 and up. The carbon cycle, as it relates to the ocean and climate change. 2009, NASA. Watch

  • Oceans of Climate Change - 2:21 minutes. Grades 5 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. treaming and downloadable.

  • Sea Level Rise and the California Coast - 5:33 minutes. Grades 6 and up. How is sea level rise impacting California's public beaches? How will California respond to this threat and adapt in the future? 2019, Rigler Creative. Watch

  • The Role of Ice in the Ocean: What is Sea Ice and Why Is It Shrinking? - 2:09 minutes. Grades 5 and up. NOAA. Streaming, downloadable and captioned.

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

Environmental Justice and redlining:

  • Activism and the California Coast - 4:50 minutes. Grades 6 and up. How has activism shaped the California coast, and what is its role today and in the future? 2019, Rigler Creative. Watch

  • Community Voices on Environmental Justice - Grades 7 and up. A series of videos featuring federal and local government officials, non-profit leaders, and students who tell stories about the lessons that they have learned over their time working on environmental justice. From 2012-2016, US EPA. Watch

  • Kids Belong at the Beach - 4:53 minutes. Grades 6 and up. Why is it important to get more kids to the California coast, and how is that goal being achieved? 2019, Rigler Creative. Watch

  • Segregated by Design - 7:42 minutes. The forgotten history of how our federal, state and local governments unconstitutionally segregated every major metropolitan area in America through law and policy. 2019. Watch

Marine and coastal biodiversity, and general ocean info:

  • Beach: A River of Sand - 20 minutes. Grades 6 and up. This classic film describes how beaches are formed and change and how sand moves along the coast. 1967. Watch

  • 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, from California State Parks Orange Coast District. Watch

  • Ecosystems of California - From 2-30 minutes long. Grades 9 and up. A series of videos on California's diverse ecosystems as explained by UC Santa Cruz Professor Erika Zavaleta. Watch

  • Fish "Walks" on Beach to Spawn - 4:06 minutes. Grades 5-adult. Every spring on California's beaches, thousands of tiny fish come ashore to spawn. As beach habitats decline, volunteer "grunion greeters" are teaming up to study and protect the tiny fish. 2011, National Geographic. Watch
  • Invaders from Around the World - 6:25 minutes. Grades 4 to 6. Explanation of invasive species, from USC Sea Grant. Watch 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 - 14 minutes. 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. Download a free Classroom Study Guide for Grades 6 to 12 from NOAA Montrose Settlements Restoration Program. 2011. Watch

  • The Allure of Fluorescence in the Ocean - 3:52 minutes. Grades 9-adult. Why do so many marine animals have bright fluorescent pigments? This video describes how one function was demonstrated experimentally. 2019, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Watch

  • Tsunamis: Know What to Do! - 8 minutes. Grades K-8. Animated short film to educate kids about Tsunami Preparedness by Ready San Diego. 2009. View video online with Spanish captions or without Spanish captions.

  • Underwater Noise Pollution - 1:52 minutes. Grades 5-adult. Marine animals use the physical qualities of water to communicate across the seas. But humans also capitalize on the acoustic properties of water for their own purposes, from sonar to seismic exploration. This animated explainer highlights the challenges of living in an ocean filled with the "smog" of sound. 2015, Hakai Magazine. Watch

Students on a field trip to Seaside, photo Lauren Krohmer  

Marine debris:

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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. Grade 2-adult. 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.

  • 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. 2013. Watch

Students working with Tolowa Dunes Stewards

Ocean acidification:

  • Acid Test: the Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification - 22 min., grades 9 and up. This video raises awareness of the problem of ocean acidification, stemming from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 2009, NRDC. Watch

  • Ocean Acidification - 3:01 minutes. Grades 7 and up. Animated explanation of ocean acidification. 2012, Alliance for Climate Education. Watch

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


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.

Salmon To Sanctuary
The Napa County Resource Conservation District developed four high school modules in 2020 and 2021 that can be taught in an online setting. To answer the question, "How can native salmon and trout be restored to the Napa River and West Coast Marine Sanctuaries?," students explore StoryMaps and videos about the Napa River watershed, local Indigenous peoples, the impact of dams, nutrient cycling, 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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