Saturday, July 9, 2011

How Many Oceans Do You Count in Your Classroom?

Oceans away by Here
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Here's Kate 

I'm preparing for my new adventure in fifth grade (coming from second).  One of my favorite things about being a teacher is that I get to continue to learn new things, relearn what might have been forgotten, and I truly appreciate giving others the chance to share their expertise in whatever learning environment I find myself.

So, as I browsed through the fifth grade textbook to see what it's all about (textbooks...a whole other conversation), I began thinking I'd like to brush up on some geography.  I know it's easy enough to "look online" to find out a location or understand something about a culture, but I wanted a more automatic recall of information I once knew so easily.  Earth science, environmental science, and cultural geography were three of my favorite classes in college, and they helped me gain a better understanding of many things about our world. This is definitely a great time to review. So as I began going between the book and other resources to make sure I have the most up-to-date information and to be sure I can connect history with the present I found there was something missing from the maps in our social studies manual. Something like, um, an ocean.

I began to ask around and apparently there are many people who don't know that there are now five oceans.  Or, more accurately that SOME people claim there are five oceans.  The more I investigated, the more I found out about this fifth ocean and that it might not actually be a done deal - not all the votes are in it seems.  Briefly, about 11 years ago, some scientists decided that there is now Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica.  It's on the maps.  Well, some maps, and not our textbook maps.  National Geographic, which, from my research, did not originally recognize Southern Ocean does now have it marked on maps on its site.  Some scientists believe Southern Ocean is not really an ocean but part of other oceans.  I don't have enough of a grasp on the topic to explain it clearly. I'll have to keep reading to get a better handle on the two sides.

There was an interesting article published in January 2011 on  It reminds me that even more important than knowing how many oceans there are is the idea that teachers are responsible for knowing about such controversies as this debate among scientists about the oceans (or remember the planets and Pluto - does your science textbook still have Pluto in it?)  It is the responsibility of teachers to show students that such debates exist, how changes are made, why changes are made, and, of course, it will mean getting the students in on the debate and not just waiting for the final outcome to make its way to your textbook that you might be getting in a few years.  It will definitely take some research and a continued commitment to the topic (add Southern Ocean to your Google Alerts).  It might even mean reaching out to experts in the field.

When you return to your classroom for a new school year will you go back with four or five oceans or with a question for your students:  How many oceans do YOU think there are?  FUN!

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