Since opening in 1995, The Florida Aquarium has been delivering marine science and environmental education programs to visiting guests, the community, and of course, school kids! Each year the aquarium hosts approximately 75,000 school children.
In 2012 the 1,000,000th student was educated. Many groups purchase self-guided tickets. The aquarium offers a variety of programs in the galleries to enhance the visit. Many enjoy the “Predators of Reef” Dive program where the audience has a chance to speak to a diver while they are underwater. Children love to see animals, and our “Live Animal Presentation” in the Wetlands Gallery is always a favorite. There are three opportunities to touch live animals at the Horseshoe Lagoon, Stingray Beach and No Bone Zone touch tanks. Animals at these exhibits range from southern stingrays and bamboo sharks to horseshoe crabs and sea anemones. Students will encounter volunteers and staff along the pathway to answer questions and they may even have a live animal for students to get an up close look.
Many student groups also choose to reserve a program delivered by a Florida Aquarium Instructor. This October the new Carol and Barney Barnett Learning Center opens to serve a larger number of students. The new learning center will feature six state of the art learning spaces — each will be themed for programming. Four of the spaces will be used for an innovative new program focused on sea turtles. For second through eighth graders, students will enter the center and split into three groups, where a pre-show will brief students on their mission. Next, students will rotate through three learning spaces that focus on how tough it is to be a hatchling, live life out in the open ocean near the Sargasso Sea, and what happens when sea turtles interface with humans. During the mission, students will participate in active inquiry based programming where they will use manipulative models and technology to complete their mission. Afterwards, they will understand what they can do for sea turtles and the coastal environment in their everyday lives.
Pre-kindergarten to first graders will visit the “In My Backyard” space. They will act as explorers and search for animals that are commonly found in Florida. Using observation skills kids will focus on what they might find in their backyard and around the local community.
The last space is a laboratory that will be used for marine science labs for middle and high school students to learn about topics such as anatomy and physiology, chemical oceanography, sedimentology, and physics. Students will use microscopes, probes, and iPads to identify sand, plankton and more.
The education team also offers behind the scenes tours, focusing on the ins and outs of how the aquarium functions; the “Exploring the Bay Eco-Boat tour,” a 75-minute boat tour on Tampa Bay where students look for dolphins and sea birds; and adventurous groups even participate in the “Sleep with the Fishes” program, a sleepover featuring a squid dissection, behind the scenes tour and view of the aquarium at night.
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