Jenny Griffiths, Education Officer at the Marine Conservation Society, explores the Cool Seas Investigators (CSI) project.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is the UK charity dedicated to the protection of our seas, shores and wildlife. It campaigns for clean seas and beaches, sustainable fisheries, and improved protection of marine life and habitats. Through education, community involvement and collaboration, the charity raises awareness of the many threats that face our seas and promotes individual, industry and government action to protect the marine environment.

Cool Seas Investigators (CSI) is MCS’s community action learning initiative. This problem-based learning programme is designed to encourage real-world interaction with marine conservation issues among students aged 10-16 years.  MCS recently ran a successful CSI pilot project with Saxmundham Primary and Saxmundham Free School in Suffolk, investigating the issue of beach litter in the local area.

The project, which ran over a period of 8 weeks, saw students take part in a beach clean and litter survey at Sizewell Beach. Students were out on the beach collecting and recording details of all litter items over a 100-metre stretch of beach. The beach clean is the start of a project which enables students and teachers to get a hands-on grasp of the issue without any prior teaching. This is fundamental: first-hand experience rather than being taught about it.  The information collected by the students was added to 10 years’ worth of previous data from the beach and was the basis for subsequent project work.

A week later, a day of workshops was held, providing further opportunities for students to investigate the issue, discuss the project and gain skills that would be useful as the process progressed. Real people who are touched by the issue of beach litter – environmental agencies, plastics manufacturing and the recycling industry – attended to share how their work impacts beach litter and the ways in which they work to reduce litter in general.  Students then worked in small groups, looking at the data, identifying a particular problem from an item collected, such as plastic bottles, balloons or carrier bags, and were then asked to identify a real-world solution to that issue.

MCS Education Officer, Jenny Griffiths, along with teachers, offered support and advice via a purpose-built online platform of blogs and discussion forums. Known as the CSI Hub, this site enabled students to discuss the issue, share ideas and understanding and even provided the opportunity to ‘Ask an Expert’. MCS were also able to keep track of the learning remotely through the site.

Each project group prepared a presentation, and schools selected three presentations each to pitch to a panel of experts. Held at Seckford Theatre, this provided an opportunity for students to apply their presenting skills in grander surroundings than their classroom or school hall. The winning idea was to publish the ‘Beat the Microbead’ app to make it more widely used. Created as part of a collaborative campaign to eradicate microbeads – small particles of plastic added to cosmetic products, like face washes and toothpaste – the app enables customers to check product ingredients so they can make informed choices about the products they use. MCS is now working with the winning group to make the idea a reality.

Student responses to the project were really positive, with most enjoying the collaborative aspects and the ‘unusual’ learning approach.

‘‘In CSI you got to work in a group and I think teamwork is the best way to sort out a problem like this!’’ Natasha

“I learned that people REALLY need to stop littering and that if you want to get something done, you need to work as a group.” Daniel

In addition, the CSI Hub enabled students to apply and develop the core digital skills required to be a lifelong learner in our modern world.

The benefits of CSI extend way beyond supporting the delivery of the core curriculum areas of science, English and maths. As a real-world investigation centred around a problem, students are supported to develop key 21st century attributes, such as collaboration, co-operation and global citizenship.

Feedback from the participating teachers indicated that the project was well organised, included quality resources and encouraged students to engage with the subject matter. The problem-based learning approach was seen to be ‘a bit scary’ initially as teachers were not in control of the learning, but on reflection encouraged a greater connection with the topic and deeper learning as the children led the way.  In fact, one teacher commented that she felt the approach was much more effective than a traditional teaching approach. Teachers felt that students thoroughly enjoyed the project and gained a greater connection to their local community, environment and their beaches.

Perhaps the most telling feedback of all though is that 95% of students said they would like to take part in a similar project in the future – they enjoyed a change to the ‘normal’ learning experience.  As a charity, MCS is now actively seeking funding to further develop and extend this project, and other similar projects, to schools across the UK.


For more information, please click here.  Jenny can be contacted at:

This article was first published in NAEE’s journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 111).  To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.

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