Resources to help educators implement Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences with students.

MWEEs by the Sea

Field experiences centered around local watershed issues provide students with authentic learning experiences and opportunities to engage in stewardship actions. To provide Oregon Coast educators with resources and training that support Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs), Oregon Sea Grant launched the MWEEs by the Sea project in 2018. Over three years, the project provided grade 3-12 teachers with workshops, materials, support,  connections to watershed professionals, and student experiences. Explore the resources below to plan and carry out your own project-based MWEE unit.

Learn more about the history of the MWEEs by the Sea project

Resources for Educators

What is a MWEE, and more FAQ

MWEE Is Pronounced "Mee-WEE"

MWEE is an acronym created by NOAA B-WET which stands for Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience.

"MWEEs are learner-centered experiences that focus on investigations into local environmental issues that lead to informed action and civic engagement."

We all live within a watershed, so watershed field experiences can occur right outside the classroom door. Whether field experiences take place in the schoolyard, at a nearby stream, or on a trip to the coast, these activities are meaningful because they are part of a larger connected unit about a local environmental issue.


Strategic use of the Outdoor Classroom

Students in rain gear walk down a wooded path

MWEEs are a type of Project Based Learning (PBL) unit that can take several weeks or months to implement.

Informal educators on the Oregon coast who support outdoor experiences for youth have noticed that some K-12 teachers tend to take students on field trips just at the end of the school year, sometimes in the last week of the school year. Unfortunately, many of these class trips at this hectic time tend to be standalone experiences that are not connected to learning happening throughout the rest of the school year, and don't lead to follow-up, reflections, or student actions.

In contrast, a MWEE unit engages students in outdoor exploration and learning that occurs over a long period of time and involves multiple field experiences that are tied to broader learning goals. MWEE units involve time for preparation, action, and reflection surrounding each experience. Students undertaking a meaningful watershed educational experience go outdoors repeatedly to local field sites, where they collect data, analyze and reflect on findings back in the classroom. Then they repeat the process to achieve new levels where they can ask follow up questions, make observations, test ideas, interact with community experts, and devise informed solutions.

More about Project-Based Learning

here are Four MWEE Essential Elements (from Bay Backpack)

Four Essential Elements of a MWEE


  • Issue Definition and Investigation
    Students investigate a local environmental issue through direct experiences and interactions with community experts. Many of the issues Oregon Coast students explored in the MWEEs by the Sea program focus on topics related to watershed health. Student groups asked questions such as: Is this stream habitat suitable for salmon? How does ocean acidification affect oysters in Oregon? Is pollution affecting the creek behind our school? How does marine debris end up on Oregon beaches? What ecosystem services do wetlands provide?
  • Outdoor Field Experiences
    As students explore local places around an issue, they make repeated visits to outdoor field sites to collect and analyze data, and come up with new questions and directions to explore. Watershed professionals and other community partners can join student groups in the field to guide their investigations. To get ideas about where to go, visit the Oregon Coast STEM Hub Field Sites page.
  • Synthesis and Conclusions
    Based on their discoveries, students argue from evidence and make claims about the issue on which they are focusing. This involves communicating their findings to peers and community, and possibly sharing a solution they may have for a problem. In the MWEEs by the Sea program, students had an opportunity to attend a spring Student Watershed Symposium to share poster presentations about their findings.
  • Action Projects
    in this element, students design and engage in stewardship actions to address the issue they are studying. Solutions may involve actions such cleaning up marine debris or removing invasive species, changing a process in the school community to reduce waste, restoring wildlife habitat, or creating and sharing their proposals to reduce ocean acidification.

There Are MWEE Four Supporting Practices (from Bay Backpack)

Four Supporting Practices of MWEE


  • Active Teacher Support
    Teachers support student learning by providing opportunities for their students to investigate an issue and facilitating their exploration to make sure the Essential Elements of the MWEE come together.
  • Classroom Integration
    The MWEE meets education standards and is integrated into the scope and sequence of the academic unit. Classroom activities can support field experiences by ensuring that students are well-prepared in advance of the trip, and readings and data analysis following a field experience help students reflect on what they learned while outside.
  • Local Context
    Focusing on local issues that are relevant to students' lives give the topic meaning and context. Additionally, the students are able to see how their individual and community actions affect local ecosystems.
  • Sustained Activity
    The MWEE engages students over a long period of time as they address a complex issue with multiple opportunities for learning, connecting with watershed professionals, and collecting data outside.

Get Started

In the MWEEs by the Sea project, teachers attending workshops were given an Implementation Plan template and time to outline a MWEE PBL unit they intended to implement with their students. Although Implementation Plan details typically evolved over the weeks following the workshop, having this initial structure served to capture ideas from the workshop and keep everyone on track.

See the Implementation Plan Template


Project Partners


  • NOAA Bay-Watershed Education and Training - B-WET provides competitive funding to support Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences for K–12 audiences.
  • Pacific Northwest NOAA B-WET - Pacific Northwest B-WET environmental education program supports the MWEEs by the Sea project and other locally relevant experiential learning in the K-12 environment.

Two BWET logos

Oregon Sea Grant

  • Oregon Sea Grant -  Oregon Sea Grant's vision is one of thriving coastal communities and ecosystems in Oregon. We achieve this vision by serving as a catalyst that promotes discovery, understanding and resilience for Oregon coastal communities and ecosystems.

Oregon Sea Grant logo

South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

  • South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve - The Reserve was designated in 1974 as the first unit of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS), a network of estuary habitats protected and managed for the purposes of long-term research, education, and coastal stewardship. SSNERR provides educators and students with access to real time data, student programs and field trips, educator professional development workshops, and connections to scientists at the Reserve. South Slough NERR provides MWEE-focused teacher workshops and Teachers on the Estuary (TOTE) professional development.

South Slough NERR logos



MWEEs by the Sea (2018-2021) is supported by grant funds from the Pacific Northwest NOAA Bay Watershed Education Training (B-WET) program


Learn More about NOAA B-WET Funding Opportunities