South Carolina is one of the most ecologically diverse states in the country, and there’s only one place classes can go to experience all of its amazing habitats in the same building: the South Carolina Aquarium. As students journey through the aquarium, they learn about the many distinct ecosystems found in South Carolina — from the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains to the vast Atlantic Ocean — through fun, hands-on activities that bring lessons to life.
Brian Thill, Assistant Director of Education at the South Carolina Aquarium, leads a team of staff and volunteers who encourage young people to engage with the natural world in innovative ways.
“People of all ages are naturally attracted to water,” explains Thill. “They want to touch it, to be near it, to explore what lies below the surface. We get to make the tangible connection between natural instinct and scientific education — it’s what makes us unique.”
At Ollie’s Trading Post, students may bring items found from their local area to exchange for bones, teeth and other natural specimens and examine each item under a microscope. After learning more about their interesting finds, students can then experience the Touch Tank, where they can hold sea stars, sea urchins and hermit crabs, feel the smooth skin of a stingray, and touch the shell of a horseshoe crab. When students reach the Saltmarsh Aviary, they can purchase cups of shrimp to feed the stingrays, who swim past eagerly in search of a tasty shrimp treat.
Daily programs provide students the opportunity to learn from a wildlife expert about some of the aquarium’s most fascinating animals. Animal Encounters featuring alligators, owls, snakes and more bring students even closer to nature as educators present the animals face-to-face with aquarium guests. Dive shows provide another opportunity for interactive education, as divers within the 385,000-gallon Great Ocean Tank participate and engage with the audience. In addition to daily dive shows, it’s not uncommon to see aquarium staff holding impromptu presentations with a turtle or a small alligator!
“Students can easily view an alligator on an iPad in the classroom, but to touch a live alligator at the aquarium is a completely different experience,” says Thill. “It’s our goal for guests to leave the aquarium with a greater knowledge and appreciation for animals found in our environment while increasing their desire to be stewards of the natural world.”
A visit to the South Carolina Aquarium is a creative and informative experience that complements the valuable science lessons that students learn in the classroom. The Aquarium eagerly welcomes students and teachers and seeks to create an experience that all will remember for years to come.
Arkansas State University
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