Virginia Coastal Ecosystems Field Course

VIMS Teachers on the Estuary: A Field Course on Virginia's Coastal Ecosystems

June 21-25, 2020
VIMS Eastern Shore Lab
Wachapreague, VA

Applications due Feb 28, 2020

Audience |

Requirements |

Logistics |

Sample Agenda |


Map of Wachapreague, VA


VIMS Educators have been leading classroom science teachers in explorations of the diverse habitats of Virginia's Eastern Shore and its barrier islands since 2001. The home base for these learning adventures is the VIMS Eastern Shore Lab, an active coastal research facility in Wachapreague, VA. This year educators from VIMS/Virginia Sea Grant Extension Program and the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (CBNERR) team up to once again offer science teachers a field-intensive survey of Mid-Atlantic coastal ecosystems with a focus on Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs).

The objectives of the VIMS Coastal Ecosystems Field Course are to:

  • Enrich teachers' understanding of coastal and estuarine science content
  • Enhance teachers' skills and confidence in planning and conducting MWEEs
  • Prepare teachers to successfully integrate coastal and estuarine content into their existing curricula
  • Introduce teachers to research-based and multidisciplinary lessons and experiences as tools for teaching science 
  • Promote discussion and development of additional classroom and field applications of research-based lessons.

Participants receive Virginia SOL-relevant content in marine biology, chemistry, physics, earth and ocean sciences, and technology; teaching resources for the classroom and field; and a meaningful outdoor educational experience that both models a MWEE and generates data they will be able to use in the classroom. Using high-tech and low-tech methods, teachers will sample the ecosystems with various types of oceanographic equipment, including:

  • Otter trawl
  • YSI salinity/DO/temp probe
  • Refractometer & hydrometer
  • Secchi disk
  • Van Dorn bottle
  • Transect lines
  • Chemical test kits
Teachers examing seine net catch Using the scope Oyster dredge Dune Crest

Participants investigate habitats on both ocean and bay sides of the Eastern Shore, including:

  • Tidal creek
  • Mudflat
  • Barrier island
  • Seagrass bed

Field site maps:


Participants are also able to explore the coastal community of Wachapreague, the Little City by the Sea, which includes a successful working waterfront.

Teacher Resources
The classroom and lab portions include content supporting Virginia Standards of Learning and integrating existing environmental education curricula and online resources. Participants receive teaching materials, laboratory and field activity outlines transferable to their own students and individual regions of Virginia. Examples of the references and curricula provided are: Life in the Chesapeake Bay, Estuaries 101, WILD Science & Civics, Healthy Waters/Healthy People, and research-based activities authored by VIMS scientists and tested in VIMS partner classrooms. Teachers also receive guidance and VRUEC resources to build teacher confidence and competence in planning and conducting Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences.

Target Audience
This course is designed for Virginia classroom teachers who:

  • Teach middle and/or high school science
  • Enjoy, or are willing to endure, early mornings and long hours in the field under the typical summer weather and insect conditions of coastal Virginia
  • Will maintain communications throughout the school year for the purposes of collegial sharing and course evaluation
  • Have a basic understanding of coastal biology and ecology
  • Are comfortable using basic computer and Internet-based applications and communications (e.g. Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer/Firefox, email)

Participant Requirements
Participants will be expected to:

  • Fully participate in the 4 day/4 night residential program (arrive on Sunday, course starts on Monday morning)
  • With their students in the appropriate classes, conduct and assess two lessons or activities using content and resources from the workshop during the 2019-20 school year
  • Complete follow-up questionnaires regarding their implementation of content and activities from the workshop (we anticipate no more than two online surveys during the 2019-20 school year)
  • Provide feedback on the implementation of lesson plans

This sample agenda (pdf) is meant to provide a basic outline for the course. It is subject to change.

Lodging is included at the Eastern Shore Lab's dormitory. It is a large older house that has been renovated for group living. The second story consists of two large bunkrooms, each with its own bathroom. Additional bunkrooms and bathrooms (including a handicapped-accessible facility) are available on the first floor. The dorm also includes a large kitchen and dining area, small den with satellite television and a picnic area with gas grills.

Hotel accommodations are also available, at the participant's expense, approximately 20 minutes from the Lab.

There is no cost for this program thanks to a grant from the EPA Environmental Education Grant Program. This course is a collaborative project between VIMS Marine Advisory Program, Virginia Sea Grant, Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Friends of the Rappahannock.

Clark, V., C. Hopper Brill, and C. Petrone. 2008.
Two Boats, Three Summers, Five Universities, One Dozen Instructors, and Sixty-Five Teachers: A Collaborative Oceanography Field Program for Earth Science. The Journal Of Mathematics and Science: Collaborative Explorations. Vol 10: 43-53.

Course Application 

Applications due by February 28, 2020. Selected participants will be notified by March 20, 2020. 

If you have questions not answered by this page, please contact Lisa Ayers Lawrence at VIMS Marine Advisory Services or Sarah Nuss at the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (CBNERR).