Nova Scotia

Ocean School bringing virtual underwater exploration into classrooms

Middle school students in Nova Scotia will soon be learning about oceans through a new interactive program that allows them to explore underwater ecosystems through virtual reality.

New curriculum pairs National Film Board footage with marine scientists' research

Scientist Boris Worm leads a group of students as well as federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc and André Picard of the National Film Board in an exercise demonstrating the food web and connections in underwater ecosystems. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Middle-school students in Nova Scotia will be diving into the world's underwater ecosystems through a new interactive program.

Ocean School, developed by Dalhousie University and the National Film Board, combines video footage with information provided by marine scientists. 

"We're teaching science content in a new way," said the program's science leader, Boris Worm. "We are both storytellers but we tell a different stories. So it's interesting to come together and do something for the next generation."

There's a classroom component and students can use a program on mobile devices that allows them pause, zoom in and explore a 360-degree virtual reality.

Pilot project starting this fall

It will launch as a pilot project at some Nova Scotia schools next fall and the curriculum is expected to expand across the country in 2017. 

Worm, a marine conservation professor at Dalhousie University, says he hopes the project will spark more interest in ocean science. 

"We have the longest coastline in the world, we have three oceans and an inland sea. I think we have to catch up to that reality and use that more thoughtfully," he said. "I want people to talk about it, to explore it for themselves, ask questions and be engaged in a meaningful way."

Input from Grade 8 student

Anisha Rajaselvam, a Grade 8 student at Sacred Heart School of Halifax, helped develop the program with Worm. She says students don't learn much about oceans in current science classes.

"It's hard to protect something you know nothing about," she said. 

"Seeing as ... it makes up three quarters of our world I think it's really important to find out about it so, I think it'll be exciting and really useful to know about the ocean," she said. 

From coast to coast to coast

Segments for the prototype that will launch this fall are being filmed around the world as well as along Nova Scotia's coastline.

This week Worm and Rajaselvam were part of a segment on the power of tides shot while river rafting on the Shubenacadie River and another at a seal colony in Duncan's Cove. 

Worm says further shoots are planned on the West and Arctic coasts as well as in the Mediterranean. 

Thursday afternoon at Dalhousie, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced the federal government will contribute $250,000 to the project. The Nova Scotia government will be contributing an additional $120,000. 

With files from Felicia Latour