The National Geographic Society is diving right into its new educational division with a thorough study of the most unreachable parts of our oceans. Since the launch of National Geographic Education in January, a full sked of big ideas are being bandied about at the Society’s Washington HQ. The research projects – having to do with space, the oceans, animals and a host of other topics – will be taken into classrooms across North America, and then the world.
Ericka Markman, who left a post as VP of development of children’s programming at National Geographic Television to head up the education division, hopes to pique students’ interest in all things nature-related, as well as to elevate understanding (and perhaps grades) via cutting-edge classroom teaching materials prepared with the scientific knowledge resources of Nat Geo. The company hopes these efforts will raise Nat Geo brand awareness among the junior demographic.
In addition to rolling out in-school materials nationally, the opportunity for students to participate is built in (the first project allows students to witness the opening day ceremonies of the deep sea research component), and projects will have a broadcast element. ‘We are already involved in an educational component via broadcast on our channels nationwide,’ says Markman.
‘We are earmarking programming as being appropriate for schools. One example of that is in Australia. They have cable in the classroom just as we do, and our National Geographic Channel in Australia has a strand that is branded Cable in the Classroom. As we build out our opportunities, we are going to be supporting it with our website, which will be both U.S. and internationally focused.’
National Geographic Channel can be seen in more than 40 countries worldwide, with over 30 million subscribers. A U.S. launch is expected within 12 months.
The first project National Geographic Education has tackled is the five-year, US$5 million-plus Sustainable Seas Expedition. Produced in conjunction with NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the expedition has been funded by a $5 million grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, with an additional $775,000 coming from the National Geographic Society Exploration Council. Sustainable Seas will take kids deep into the ocean with oceanographer and scientist Sylvia Earle, who will explore new depths of marine sanctuaries.
‘We are creating a deep water submersible called Deep Worker for this five-year experiment,’ says Markman. ‘We are researching and gathering data about the ocean at depths of 2,000 feet and below. This kind of research has never been done before.’
The Sustainable Seas Expedition will be launched in Monterey, California this spring. The launch can be seen in real time on The Sustainable Seas website (nationalgeographic.com/seas), so kids in schools across the world can be a part of the opening day activities.
For now National Geographic Education will focus primarily on schools in North America as a test audience of sorts. ‘North America is very important for us and we have a special relationship with teachers here,’ says Markman. ‘However, we are already talking to partners in other countries, particularly in the Far East and Asia where education is such an important part of the culture.’
Markman says talks are underway with partners in these countries in hopes of jointly developing products for National Geographic Education, or translating the pre-existing products to suit the language needs of the country.
‘The goal [of National Geographic Education] is to get kids excited about learning about the world from inside the classroom, as well as outside the classroom,’ says Markman.
Learning materials provided to the schools are designed so that children can learn through ‘adventure and exploration. The focus is very hands-on and student-directed. But at the same time, these products are correlated to the curriculum and national standards in social studies, science, language arts and even math,’ she says. National Geographic is utilizing software, video, print materials and many other types of media to make its presence resonate inside schools, and is currently constructing a website specifically for teachers.
‘The website will be the teacher’s portal into National Geographic and all of the activities we’re engaged in that would be exciting to use in the classroom,’ says Markman.
National Geographic Education is developing a number of different products, one of which is the GeoKit, in which topics range from bugs to reptiles and space to the oceans. The kits include videos, maps, overheads, teacher’s guides and Internet lessons for the featured subject.