Strategic Planning Glossary

Key terms from the NOAA Education Strategic Plan

This glossary is a collection of terms and definitions from the 2021-2041 NOAA Education Strategic Plan. The NOAA Education community has developed and adopted these terms to promote a shared understanding of key concepts related to NOAA education.

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Individuals 18 years and older who engage in lifelong learning activities with the aim of enhancing their own knowledge, skills, and competencies from a personal, civic, social, or employment-related perspective.


The preservation and careful management of NOAA trust resources to prevent further impacts (e.g., stabilize populations to make them functional members of their ecosystem), loss, or damage of NOAA trust resources. The goal is to remove or minimize human or other impacts to the ecosystem.

Citizen science

A form of open collaboration in which individuals or organizations participate voluntarily in the scientific process in various ways, including enabling the formulation of research questions; creating and refining project design; conducting scientific experiments; collecting and analyzing data; interpreting the results of data; developing technologies and applications; making discoveries; and solving problems.[1]

Disciplines that support NOAA’s mission

All NOAA-related sciences and additional fields such as engineering, vessel and airplane operation, nautical charting, policy, graphic design, illustration, communications, law, management, uniformed services, social sciences, and marine observer programs.

Earth system science

An integrated approach to the study of the Earth that stresses investigations of the interactions among the Earth’s components in order to explain Earth dynamics, evolution, and global change.[2]


The process by which individuals develop their knowledge, values, and skills. Education encompasses both teaching and learning.[3]


Those who facilitate learning in various roles: public school teachers, private or independent schoolteachers, informal educators, interpreters, volunteers serving as docents or educators, homeschool educators, or preservice teachers.


A two-way relationship between a service provider and society. It implies a commitment of service to society through a partnership based on reciprocity and sharing of goals, objectives, and resources. Implicit to engagement is a respect for each partner that involves listening, dialogue, understanding, and mutual support.[4]

Environmental literacy 

Environmental literacy includes: 1) the knowledge and understanding of a wide range of environmental concepts, problems, and issues; 2) a set of cognitive and affective dispositions; 3) a set of cognitive skills and abilities; and 4) the appropriate behavioral strategies to apply such knowledge and understanding in order to make sound and effective decisions in a range of environmental contexts.[5]

Environmental education

Educational opportunities for participants to connect with local ecosystems and provides tools that can help them understand how individual behavior impacts the environment. These activities, including stewardship, encourage people to take an active role in managing and protecting these resources.

Environmental stewardship

The responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices to enhance ecosystem resilience and human well-being.[6]

Experiential learning

Experiential education programs engage learners in constructing meaning by immersing them in direct and meaningful hands-on experiences. This approach incorporates learning using real-world problems and interaction with natural phenomena.[7]


Formal education 

An organized set of educational activities that meet clearly defined learning objectives with a connection to the curriculum of the school or state. Programs and outreach for education activities provided by informal educators can be included.

Free-choice learning

Self-directed, voluntary education guided by an individual’s needs and interests.

Indigenous knowledge

The traditions, culture, and belief systems of people whose ancestors inhabited a place or country before people from another culture or ethnic background arrived on the scene.

Informal education

A set of lifelong learning activities that are delivered or facilitated by an educator, meet clearly defined learning objectives, and are provided outside the established formal education system. Participants engage in these activities with the aim of enhancing their own knowledge, skills, and competencies from a personal, civic, social, and/or career-related perspective.

K-12 students

Children attending public, private, or charter schools from kindergarten to grade 12 and preschools, or who are home-schooled.

Minority serving institutions

 Colleges and universities, including state colleges, private schools, religiously affiliated colleges, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges, that have a special focus on serving the needs of a minority audience. These universities have a historical tradition or mandate to serve a specific demographic of student, but often serve non-minority students as well. The term “minority institution” means an institution of higher education whose enrollment of a single minority or a combination of minorities exceeds 50 percent of the total enrollment.[8]


NOAA-related science

The collection of scientific disciplines that NOAA employs in its investigations, monitoring, evaluating, and forecasting of conditions and trends in the ocean, coasts, Great Lakes, weather, and climate and in building understanding of these natural systems and their relationship with human activities.


Opportunities designed to build awareness, develop relationships, and inspire action (e.g., pursuit of further learning opportunities and behavioral change). Involves information exchange between provider and target audience. Frequently designed to reach diverse audiences, but can be personal and interactive, designed to identify and appeal to an individual’s personal interest or motivation for information.[9]

Place-based education

This method of instruction encourages participants to use the schoolyard, community, public lands, and other special places as resources, turning communities into classrooms.[10]

Postsecondary students

Students who are enrolled in degree-seeking programs at a college or university.


A capability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant multi-hazard threats with minimum damage to social well-being, the economy, and the environment.[11]


Social science

Academic disciplines concerned with the study of the social life of human groups and individuals, including anthropology, economics, communications, geography, philosophy, psychology, history, education research, political science, and sociology.

Service learning

A method under which participants learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service that is conducted in and meets the needs of a community; is coordinated with an elementary school, secondary school, institution of higher education, or community service program, and with the community; helps foster civic responsibility; and is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of the students, or the educational components of the community service program in which the participants are enrolled; and provides structured time for the students or participants to reflect on the service experience.[12]

STEM education

Formal or informal education that is primarily focused on physical and natural sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics, and computer science disciplines, topics, or issues (including environmental science, environmental stewardship, and cybersecurity).[13]

STEM ecosystem

Collaborations that engage educators and individuals within and outside a formal educational setting, such as families; school districts; state, local, and tribal governments; the Federal Government and federal facilities; libraries; museums and science centers; community colleges, technical schools, and universities; community groups and clubs; foundations and nonprofits; faith-based organizations; and businesses. STEM ecosystems focus on long-term, shared, sustainable, and flexible STEM missions that bridge, integrate, and strengthen the learning opportunities offered by organizations across sectors compared with isolated, independent entities. Ecosystem partners are not bound by geographic boundaries and can broadly involve individuals and organizations in both physical and virtual engagement to create STEM communities that expand from local to global.[14]

Stewardship action

The activities, behaviors, decisions, and technologies carried out by stewards—individuals, groups, or networks of actors. Those executed collectively by groups or communities are used to manage common-trust resources. The actors involved largely depends on the scale and complexity of the issue.[15]

Traditional ecological knowledge

A cumulative body of knowledge, practice and belief evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment.[16]

Underserved audiences

Populations who receive inadequate or inequitable services, who experience quality-of-life disparities, and who by design have little power or influence over outside decisions that impact their daily quality of life.[17]

Underrepresented audiences

Populations in STEM who are categorized in the following racial or ethnic minority groups (Blacks or African Americans; Hispanics or Latinos; American Indians or Alaska Natives, and Native Pacific Islanders) based on their representation in STEM education or employment being smaller than their representation in the U.S. population.[18]


Individuals younger than 18 years old who engage in lifelong learning activities with the aim of enhancing their own knowledge, skills, and competencies from a personal, civic, social, or employment-related perspective.


[1] Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act, 15 USC § 3724

[2] NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. NASA’s Earth Observatory Glossary. NASA.

[3] NOAA (2015). NAO 216-106A: NOAA Education and Outreach Policy. NOAA.

[4] NOAA (2015). NAO 216-106A: NOAA Education and Outreach Policy. NOAA.

[5] Hollweg, K.S., J.R. Taylor, R.W. Bybee, T.J. Marcinkowski, W.C. McBeth, and P. Zoido (2011). Developing a Framework for Assessing Environmental Literacy. North American Association for Environmental Education.

[6] Chapin, F. S., Pickett, S. T., Power, M. E., Jackson, R. B., Carter, D. M., & Duke, C. (2011). Earth stewardship: a strategy for social–ecological transformation to reverse planetary degradation. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

[7] Association for Experiential Education. What is Experiential Education? offsite link

[8] Higher Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1067k(3)

[9] NOAA (2015). NAO 216-106A: NOAA Education and Outreach Policy. NOAA.

[10] Place-based Education Evaluation Collaborative (2010). The Benefits of Place-based Education: A Report from the Place-based Education Evaluation Collaborative (Second Edition).

[11] Reidmiller, D. R., Avery, C. W., Easterling, D. R., Kunkel, K. E., Lewis, K. L. M., Maycock, T. K., & Stewart, B. C. (2018). USGCRP, 2018: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II.

[12] The Community Service Act of 1990, 42 U.S. Code § 12511

[13] Committee on STEM Education, National Science and Technology Council (2018). Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education 5-Year Strategic Plan.

[14] Committee on STEM Education, National Science and Technology Council (2018). Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education 5-Year Strategic Plan.

[15] Bennett, N. J., Whitty, T. S., Finkbeiner, E., Pittman, J., Bassett, H., Gelcich, S., & Allison, E. H. (2018). Environmental stewardship: a conceptual review and analytical framework. Environmental Management61(4), 597-614

[16] Berkes F., J. Colding, and C. Folke. (2000). Rediscovery of Traditional Ecological Knowledge as Adaptive Management. Ecological Applications, 10(5), 1251-1262., as cited by

[17] Skeo (2019). DEIJ in Action: A Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Guide for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Chesapeake Bay Trust. offsite link

[18] National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (2019). Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2019. Special Report NSF 19-304.