H2O, Headwaters to Oceans

FY 2023 | 3 – Inform | 23-10-03

H2O, Headwaters to Oceans

Lauren Bien, PWSSC
Contract Term: 10/01/22 - 09/30/23
Award: $

Incorporated by commercial fishermen and community leaders in 1989, the Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC) is an independent, non-profit institute committed to scientific research and science education. We work to improve the understanding of the ecosystems of Prince William Sound, the Copper River watershed, Bering Glacier, and the northern Gulf of Alaska. 

      Our mission is to advance the understanding and sustainable use of ecosystems in the northern Gulf of Alaska region through research and education. We work to provide research, monitoring and education programs in service to the world’s richest waters. Our long-term vision is to improve, influence, and support the ability of communities in our bioregion to maintain socioeconomic resilience among healthy, functioning ecosystems. We believe research and education can be applied to improve management of resources for maximum resiliency during this time of rapid shifts in climate and surrounding ecosystems.  

      Since our inception, we have applied an innovative combination of formal and informal educational programs to inspire a life-long understanding of and interest in evidence-based decision making. We prioritize efforts to develop scientifically literate citizens who value ecological systems and make balanced decisions with their community, economy, and ecology in mind. We take a whole-society approach that includes a direct engagement component with K-12 students and is comprised of: Discovery Room (targeting elementary school students in Cordova), Secondary School Outreach (targeting local middle and high school students), Discovery Outreach (targeting K-12 students from rural villages), and Discover Cordova programs for pre-school age youth. 

      In the Science Center’s vision, our region maintains resilience by fostering strong connections between self, surroundings, science, and society for all members of the community. Education is a cornerstone of this vision.  

H2O Major Accomplishments of FY22 

  1. Four high school students participated in the Regional National Ocean Sciences Bowl, the Tsunami Bowl, competition in Seward. The team won second place overall in the quiz competitions and placed third in the paper portion for their research on Kelp Mariculture as a Sustainable Solution to Ocean Acidification in Prince William Sound. The three graduating team members plan to continue studying in the science field. 
  1. Over 140 students in kindergarten, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and ninth-twelfth grades engaged in regular ocean related activities and were exposed to experts and careers in the field of STEM. 
  1. The Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Challenge was hosted in Nome in October 2021, at the 2022 Tsunami Bowl, and during Discovery Room with Cordova’s 6th grade class. Over 120 students from six communities, ranging from 6-12th grade participated in this ultimate hands-on STEM program.  
  1. The ROV Kit Build-Guide was completed. The comprehensive guide is available for download on our website and print copies are available upon request.  
  1. Every 6th grade student traveled into Prince William Sound on the R/V New Wave this year in search of bioluminescent plankton. 


Overall Discovery Room Goals and Objectives 

Goal: Inspire life-long passion for science and increase scientific literacy of Cordova students by providing high quality, hands-on science education activities. Increase understanding of place by giving students access to local ecosystems and the tools to understand and appreciate their home. 


  1. Use local ecosystems as a natural laboratory through field experiences and guided exploration. 
  1. Increase student understanding of and connection to the natural world. 
  1. Connect scientists and other content experts directly with students. 
  1. Provide students access to learning opportunities that use scientific equipment. 
  1. Expose students to careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. 


Since 1992, the Science Center has partnered with the Cordova School District and other community partners to implement the Discovery Room and bring hands-on, inquiry-based learning to elementary school students. The Discovery Room typically involves monthly interactions between educators and students in grades 2-6. A combination of classroom activities and field trips are used to increase understanding and connection to the natural world. We also connect local scientists with students to teach about a variety of subjects in grade-specific programs. Curriculum materials are relevant to the region and are designed to address Alaska State performance standards for each grade level as well as national standards (such as Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core Standards, Ocean Literacy Standards, and 21st Century Skills).  

This request is for support of the 4th and 6th grade Discovery Room programs which introduce students to concepts important in understanding marine ecosystems in coastal regions, tools for monitoring these ecosystems, the impacts of an oil spill, and response strategies. Students behave as young oceanographers that monitor ocean water quality and develop technology skills that allow them to become familiar with equipment used to study the ocean. These programs are designed to get students outside and feeling comfortable in their local environment so that they may become stewards for the natural ecosystems in their home. While we focus on the 4th and 6th grades, we often work with other grades (Kindergarten-6) that accomplish these and similar goals.   

Fourth Grade: Ocean Science and Fisheries  

Goal: Engage fourth grade students in virtual, classroom, and field activities to increase their understanding of ocean sciences and processes, oceanographic monitoring, and the impacts of climate change on key groups, such as plankton, and key species such as Pacific Herring.  


  1. Students understand the role of scientists and science in ocean monitoring. 
  1. Students understand functional and structural components of marine ecosystems. 
  1. Students understand the role of phytoplankton and zooplankton in the marine food chain and the explicit connection between plankton and herring. 
  1. Students understand herring biology and the important role herring play in marine ecosystems. 
  1. Students use scientific equipment and instruments to collect and analyze scientific data. 
  1. Students are exposed to careers in the fields of science, technology engineering and math. 

The fourth grade Discovery Room curriculum focuses on ocean ecosystems and how they are affected by various physical and chemical factors. In order to understand the potential impacts of oil spills and the importance of studying them, students must first understand ocean ecosystems.  

The goal of the Ocean Science and Fisheries Program is to engage students in virtual, classroom, and field activities to increase their understanding of ocean sciences and processes, oceanographic monitoring, and the ecological importance of key groups and species such as plankton and Pacific Herring. This program engages approximately 25 students per year at Mt. Eccles Elementary School in Cordova, Alaska. Lesson topics include use of scientific equipment, interpreting oceanographic data, function and structure of marine ecosystems and food chains, herring biology and ecosystem function.  

Alaska State Science Standards applicable to OSRI funded Headwaters to Ocean 4th grade programming 

  • 4-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment. Some resources are renewable over time and some are not.  
  • 4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.  
  • 4-LS1-2 Use a model to describe that animals receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond to the information in different ways. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on systems of information transfer. Examples may include salmon homing, responses of marine invertebrates to sound and smell, and sonar communication among whales and other marine mammals.]  
  • 5-PS3-1 Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, and motion and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.  
  • 5-LS2-1 Develop and describe a model that describes the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.  
  • 5-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment 


Download Report: OSRI-Final-Report-FY23.docx