Since February, maritime education staff have presented the programs to more than 1,000 students in 12 public schools
For more than 50 years, educators at the University of Georgia Aquarium and Marine Education Center on Skidaway Island hosted students from kindergarten to 12th grade for hands-on programs on the coastal environment.
This year, these educators are taking the show on the road.
With support from Bass Pro Shop, Georgia Power, and Friends of the UGA Aquarium, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant staff and volunteers deliver programs to all schools in Savannah-Chatham County.
“Classroom outreach brings exciting marine science experiences to students and teachers who don’t have the resources or the time in their teaching schedules to visit the aquarium in person,” said Anne Lindsay, associate director of education at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “We don’t want communities with schools with limited resources to miss out on important learning opportunities.
The education team began planning off-site outreach activities during the pandemic when the aquarium was closed.
“Marine Debris, the Coast and Me” introduces sixth and seventh graders to the topic of plastic debris and its impacts on the ocean and coastal zone. Students move from station to station and learn about the types of debris, including microplastics, that can impact plankton or dolphins through entanglement or ingestion. To engage students outside of the classroom, educators are sharing information on how to reduce marine debris by participating in community cleanups and avoiding single-use plastics.
“CrabEcology” uses live animals and small-group activities to teach third-grade students about the physical and behavioral characteristics of different crab species and where they can be found. The program covers topics such as coastal habitats, sand and mud studies, animal adaptations, and the Georgia blue crab fishery.
The goal of both is to engage students in learning experiences that connect them to the outside world. Since February, maritime education staff have presented the programs to more than 1,000 students in 12 public schools.
Angela Willis, who teaches STEM lab for K-5 students at Heard Elementary School in Savannah, enrolled her third-grade students in the CrabEcology outreach program to expose them to outdoor activities that passionate about the world around them.
“If we can stimulate kids in a way that they use their sight, their hearing, their sense of touch…it really engages them and anchors whatever subject matter you’re trying to teach,” Willis said. “Anything practical is absolutely fantastic. When they saw there was a touch tank, almost everyone wanted to touch the crabs.
In addition to the aquarium’s educational staff, outreach is presented by four Marine Education Fellows who spend a year at the UGA Aquarium gaining experience in environmental education. Diane Klement, an ecology graduate from UGA, helped deliver both outreach programs and created some of the educational materials for the marine debris program.
“Over time, I gained confidence in teaching and adapting a program to unique schools and classrooms,” Klement said. “Moving forward, I’m excited to apply outreach program development and teaching skills to my future career.” She will return to UGA this fall to pursue a master’s degree in wildlife science at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.
Aquarium educators and volunteers will continue to deliver the programs in classrooms throughout the 2022-2023 school year, hoping to reach approximately 3,800 students in 46 public schools.
It makes a difference, Klement said.
“After the program, some students made a commitment to reduce their plastic consumption and were excited to get out and explore the salt marsh,” she said. “Some even said they wanted to be environmental educators.”