Ocean Literacy origins

The Great Lakes Literacy effort had its origins in Ocean Literacy, a movement by hundreds of scientists and educators who contributed time and expertise to develop a concise framework for conveying the most important science principles and interconnected concepts that all Earth citizens should know. The story of the remarkable journey that led to the Ocean Literacy Essential Principles is found at, along with a downloadable brochure of Ocean Literacy principles and a Scope and Sequence for their use in classrooms. Educators in Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) Great Lakes gratefully acknowledge the groundbreaking work of those who contributed to Ocean Literacy.

Early efforts to localize Lake Erie Literacy

From the beginning it was apparent that Ocean Literacy principles and concepts provided useful guidance for teaching about the marine environment. Most of the concepts were easily transferrable to Great Lakes teaching as well, but educators using Ocean Literacy in the Great Lakes found themselves stretching to say “ocean” while they were teaching on a lake. In 2008-09, educators from The Ohio Lake Erie Commission, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Office of Coastal Management, ODNR Division of Wildlife − Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve, and the Ohio Sea Grant College Program identified a need for a place-based environmental literacy framework for Lake Erie. They developed the Lake Erie Literacy Principles, based on the Ocean Literacy framework, to guide a unified strategic plan for Lake Erie education and outreach.

Support for regional efforts

Concurrent with the development of the Lake Erie Literacy framework, COSEE California, a guiding force in the Ocean Literacy movement, recognized the need to expand the utility of the Ocean Literacy Principles for the Great Lakes region. On behalf of COSEE California, the University of California–Berkeley offered a subcontract to COSEE Great Lakes. Though the original charge was to modify Ocean Literacy to include the Great Lakes, feedback from scientists and educators in COSEE Great Lakes indicated that simply adding to or modifying words in an ocean document understated the importance of the Great Lakes as a unique inland sea. COSEE California accepted the alternate plan and was pleased to support development of the Great Lakes Literacy Principles as introduced here.

Developing the Great Lakes Literacy Principles

With the support of COSEE California, COSEE Great Lakes education leaders in the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network examined the Ocean and Lake Erie Literacy principles and concepts and drafted a baseline set of concepts in October 2009. Each educator then identified five scientists and five educators who had been key to COSEE success in Great Lakes education in their respective states. The principles and concepts drafted by COSEE staff were reviewed and edited by this group of about 80 individuals. Ohio Sea Grant educators synthesized and organized the best ideas from reviewers, and sent them back for additional review. The Great Lakes Literacy Principles introduced here are the product of that process.

The 8th Principle

For the development of Great Lakes principles, the concepts of Ocean Literacy were followed as closely as possible, acknowledging the leadership role of the Ocean Literacy community and wider public input to that project. At the same time, the Earth Systems background of Ohio educators, beginning with Lake Erie principles, contributed to a need to say more about connections of humans with the lakes than was encompassed in Great Lakes Literacy Principle #6: The Great Lakes and humans in their watersheds are inextricably interconnected. From the Lake Erie document, then, Great Lakes Literacy adopted Great Lakes Literacy Principle #8: The Great Lakes are socially, economically and environmentally significant to the region, the nation and the planet. This addition allows for greater inclusion of the environmental history of the lakes and their role in the development of the region’s history, economy, and regional identity.