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Education Programs at the National Aquarium in Baltimore

Learning without pencils and notebooks is effortless at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Visitors can learn fascinating facts about aquatic life while observing animals in natural exhibits.

The Aquarium offers a variety of educational programs to enhance visitors’ learning opportunities. These programs encourage traditional and home-schooled students from preschool to college — as well as adults — to learn in a fun environment.

Kathy Siegfried, education specialist, said, “The Aquarium’s mission is to inspire and promote stewardship, so we try to get students and adults to have a great appreciation for animals and help save what we have.”

The Aquarium’s Web site states, “The Aquarium is a major educational asset to Maryland. Fifty-one percent of school visitors are from Maryland. Annually, more than 150,000 students and teachers representing every one of Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore City visit the Aquarium through a subsidized grant from the Maryland Department of Education.”

Siegfried said this state grant pays admission for Maryland students to attend trips to the Aquarium.

When a school group visits the Aquarium, children’s shouts of glee can be heard throughout the building, especially at the Children’s Discovery Cove in the Marine Mammal Pavilion. When dolphin shows are not scheduled, children stand in a line along the wall of the cove waiting to touch young bamboo sharks in the current display.

Education groups may also attend special programs in the classrooms at the Aquarium during trips, according to Siegfried. During these on-site programs, Aquarium staff teach with live animals, conduct water quality testing, perform squid dissections and lead students on behind-the-scenes tours.

When children go behind-the-scenes at the Aquarium, they are able to see above the exhibit tanks where animals are on display, the massive system of pipes that regulates more than 1 million gallons of water and animals that are in holding tanks while not on display.

Aquarium staff also conduct off-site programs within schools. During these programs, staff lead students in laboratory activities, and live animals may be brought into classrooms for observation.

“Elementary and preschool students are the biggest audiences because the programs best fit their curriculum,” Siegfried said. “Middle and high school students enjoy the squid dissection. High school students can also go on a behind-the-scenes tour.”

Preschool and kindergarten students can learn through programs such as “Animal Interviews.” During the interviews, students spend 15 minutes learning about, observing and meeting different animals such as sea stars and horseshoe crabs. These programs allow students to touch the animals while learning facts about how they eat and move.

Elementary and middle school students are able to learn about the health of the Chesapeake Bay during “Chesapeake Bay Explorations.” Students test water samples and measure oyster populations to draw conclusions about the Bay.

In addition to student programs, a teacher sleepover is held at the Aquarium. Teachers learn about restoring the Chesapeake and activities they can conduct inside or outside classrooms. Teachers are also given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Aquarium. Sixty-five teachers from Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia attended the last sleepover, Siegfried said.

In addition to formal school programs, youth programs are also available. They include the Henry Hall program. “In this program, Baltimore City middle and high school students have the opportunity to attend a kayaking trip and other field programs in order to inspire an interest in becoming a marine scientist,” Siegfried said.

The third type of programs offered is for general visitors. During “Immersion Tours,” visitors are able to “dive beneath the surface” and “discover a world behind the glass that is fascinating and full of surprises,” according to the Aquarium’s Web site.

Another aspect of general visitor programs includes educational carts placed throughout the Aquarium. Activities on the carts include teaching about sharks using teeth fossils, sandpaper to represent skin, and ropes to demonstrate length. Another cart displays baby seahorses in a small tank. When an exhibit guide is present, visitors can learn about seahorses using puzzles and tactile objects.

To find out more about reserving a program, call the Aquarium’s Central Reservations at (410) 576-3833 or visit the Aquarium’s Web site.

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