Nat Geo dives into schools

The National Geographic Society is diving right into its new educational division with an unprecedented first project-a thorough study of the most unreachable parts of our oceans....
March 1, 1999

The National Geographic Society is diving right into its new educational division with an unprecedented first project-a thorough study of the most unreachable parts of our oceans.

Since the launch of National Geographic Education in January, a full sked of big ideas is being bandied about in the Society’s Washington HQ. The projects have to do with space, the oceans, animals and other topics that Nat Geo is hoping to take into classrooms across North America, and then the world.

Ericka Markman, who left her post as VP of development of children’s programming at National Geographic Television to head up the Education division, hopes to pique students’ interest in all things nature-related, as well as to elevate understanding via cutting-edge classroom teaching materials prepared with the vast scientific knowledge resources of Nat Geo. There’s no doubt these efforts will also raise the National Geographic brand awareness among the junior demo.

In addition to rolling out in-school materials nationally, the opportunity for students to participate is built into the projects, as well as a broadcast component.

‘We are already involved in an educational component via broadcast in our channels nationwide,’ says Markman.

‘We are earmarking programming as being appropriate for schools. Our National Geographic Channel in Australia has a strand that is branded Cable in the Classroom. That is a good example of how we intend to move into other territories. As we build out our opportunities, we are going to be supporting it with our Web site, which will be both U.S.- and internationally-focused.’

National Geographic Channel can be seen in over 40 countries worldwide, with over 30 million subscribers. Ironically, the U.S., Nat Geo’s home base, does not have a channel yet. ‘We are looking very seriously at a U.S. channel, and certainly we would ideally have an educational component to the U.S. channel when that occurs,’ says Markman.

The first project National Geographic Education has tackled is the five-year Sustainable Seas Expedition, which will take kids deep into the ocean with oceanographer and scientist Sylvia Earle. Produced with NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the expedition is funded by a US$5-million grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, plus US$775,000 from the National Geographic Society Exploration Council.

‘We are creating a deep water submersible called Deep Worker for this five-year experiment,’ says Markman. ‘We are gathering data about the ocean at depths of 2,000 feet and below. This kind of research has never been done before.’

The Sustainable Seas Expedition will launch in Monterey in early spring, and can be seen in real time on Nat Geo’s Web site (

For now, Nat Geo Education will focus on schools in North America as a test audience of sorts, but will eventually take its product overseas.’We are already talking to partners in other countries, particularly in the Far East and Asia, where education is such an important part of the culture,’ says Markman.

The gameplan is to jointly develop products for Nat Geo Education, or translate pre-existing products to suit language needs.

The learning materials being provided to schools are designed so that children can learn through ‘adventure and exploration. But at the same time, these products are correlated to the curriculum and national standards in social studies, science, language arts and even math,’ says Markman. Nat Geo is utilizing software and many other types of media to make its presence resonate inside schools, and is currently constructing a Web site specifically for teachers.

National Geographic Education is also developing a number of different products, including the GeoKit, a teaching package that includes videos, maps, overheads, teacher’s guides and Internet lessons for the featured subject.

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