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Free online aquarium resources foster science inquiry

By Alicia Archer
October 22nd, 2014

New aquarium webcams and curriculum materials aim to instill student appreciation of marine biology

online-aquarium-resourcesTo reach more classrooms with its educational programs, the Aquarium of the Pacific has created free online curriculum materials based on live animal webcams.

The Aquarium Webcam Resource Kits include lesson plans, activities, online resources, and educational videos. Aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), these inquiry-based kits encourage students to make observations using the aquarium’s live streaming webcams, such as Shark Lagoon, Tropical Pacific, and Penguin Habitat.

Aquarium Webcam Resource Kits are separated into grade ranges that match those of NGSS: K-2, 3-5, and 6-8. For example, sixth through eighth grade students are asked to make animal observations while watching the Blue Cavern Kelp Forest Webcam.

One of the aquarium’s goals in creating the resource kits is to encourage students to make observations that lead to questioning, which is essential for scaffolding science inquiry during student learning. Using the available worksheets, students will pick a particular fish to draw, and they will record behaviors every minute for five minutes to learn how scientists use ethograms as a tool to record animal behavior.

Inspired by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Sleuth program, in which students watch nest cams, the Aquarium of the Pacific saw an opportunity to immerse students in marine animal observation. A pilot test of the resource kits was conducted with three sixth grade classes from the same school in fall 2013.

We predicted that the Aquarium Webcam Resource Kits would increase student knowledge and interest. A pre/post survey showed that while students’ interest level did not change with use of the kits (it remained moderately high), students increased their knowledge of marine habitats in seven of the nine content questions. Results were statistically significant, and insights from the pilot study were applied to the remaining kits.

Online resources such as the aquarium’s Build-a-Fish game and Whale Project app are additional tools that can be integrated into the lesson plans. Build-a-Fish allows students to choose a habitat and construct their very own fish, piece by piece, providing teachers with a wonderful resource for discussing animal adaptations such as movement, camouflage, predator defense, and feeding strategies.

Although the Aquarium Webcam Resource Kits can be used as standalone content pieces, there are several other ways to build on the experience based on your school’s resources. The Aquarium of the Pacific offers interactive video conference programs that can connect schools to aquarium experts through the internet using a computer, webcam, speakers, and a projector. These video conference programs range in price from $75 to $225.

Part of the Aquarium’s mission is to instill a sense of wonder and respect for marine environments. It is our hope that while learning about marine ecosystems, students will be inspired to become future ocean stewards with inquiry-based science skills.

Alicia Archer is the education technology and media supervisor at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in zoology at the University of Miami, Ohio. With nine years of informal education experience, she coordinates the aquarium’s distance learning programs.