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Environmental Education

Environmental Education Department -- take learning beyond the classroom

The Tennessee Aquarium strives to inspire wonder and appreciation for the natural world and the Aquarium's environmental education team works toward that goal every day.

Twenty-two professional staff members nd 240 volunteers in the education department are responsible for connecting people with nature by providing opportunities for every Aquarium visitor. The goal is for each visitor to earn an "E" from his or her experience with the educators and educational facilities at the Aquarium. This involves providing guests with exposure to and personal experience with the natural world, allowing them to be enlightened by an emotional connection with nature until they are empowered to help protect and make a difference in the world around them.

The education department's operating budget is supported by admission revenues, program fees, grants from federal and state agencies as well as private and corporate foundations. It is the only aquarium department in the world accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Commission on Elementary and Middle Schools and by the Commission on International and Trans-regional accreditation as a Supplemental Education School.

Interpretive programs
Each week, education staff members and trained volunteers add to the richness of the visitor experience by providing interpretive education programs throughout the Aquarium’s facilities. Educators provide environmental classes and informal educational opportunities. They also educate visitors about galleries, exhibits and animals and engage visitors in interactive and exciting ways: they answer questions, narrate feedings and engage visitors with hands-on props. Education staff members train new docents in an intensive 10-week course. The staff updates volunteers on the Aquarium’s exhibits, aquatic science and interpretive skills through ongoing training programs.

School programs
Each year, more than 100,000 school children take part in educational tours and programs at the Aquarium. All classroom programs are aligned to the state science curriculum objectives for Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama and to national science standards.

Programs change annually and include such topics such as aquatic habitats, biodiversity, the rainforest, adaptations and predator-prey relationships.

All education programs include a discussion on a specific conservation message relating to our mission. The programs and the print materials and services that support them are provided free of charge with Aquarium admission.

Outreach programs
The wonders of the world come directly to the doors of classrooms, camps, libraries and other public venues through education outreach programs, spanning a 125-mile radius around the Aquarium. Exciting and imaginative programs encourage students to learn and have fun at the same time, and teachers can enrich their students with the Aquarium’s prepared curriculum, vocabulary words, resources and classroom, home and post-trip activities. Educational staff and volunteers stage a variety of live programs throughout Tennessee, Alabama and North Georgia, many of which include the use of live animals. Fresh and saltwater aquatic programming in schools and at community events supports conservation activities and the mission of the Tennessee Aquarium.

Preschool programs

Preschoolers can investigate habitats, the five senses, colors in nature, otters, birds and life cycles during 45 to 60-minute programs. Discovery boxes, filled with books, puppets and other fun teaching tools, aid in understanding and sparking curiosity. Also, preschool backpacks provide children with fun resources, like binoculars, lesson plans, scientific tools, field guides and coloring sheets, to explore nature in their own backyards.

Homeschool programs
Homeschool groups of ten or more students receive a discounted education rate and a free education program upon request. Individual homeschool students are offered yearly-changing Life Science classes, where he or she becomes familiar with the scientific process while studying a variety of topics from arthropods to wetlands. Through these classes, he or she can gain valuable field experiences and participate in hands-on laboratory activities.

The Education Department also hosts two Homeschool Days at the Aquarium each year, one in January and one in September.

Educator programs
Professional educators are essential and respected partners in fulfilling the Aquarium’s science, education and conservation missions. Each year, hundreds of teachers and administrators from the Southeast come to the Aquarium to enhance their knowledge, teaching skills and their effectiveness as leaders in education reform.

Classes ranging from a half-day to seven days focus on a variety of science/environmental educations topics, such as saltwater habitat destruction and biodiversity on our planet, and include field, Aquarium classroom and school site locations. Many of these workshops can be customized to fit schools’ needs. The education department provides some of the best inquiry-based, informal science education available in the tri-state area.

Member education programs
Educators engage members by developing and implementing a wide variety of member education programs. The Aquarium presents many programs including day camps and hands-on workshops. Some programs include half-day field trips, canoeing and hiking, during which members explore the world, both above and below the water’s surface. Others take members to remote locations such as India, Africa, Alaska and Costa Rica.

Education volunteers
The education department manages an active and very large volunteer program and coordinates paid staff and volunteers in working together effectively. Staff members orient, support and provide special recognition to nearly 240 education volunteers each year. Volunteers donate more than 25,000 hours to the Aquarium each year, which is the equivalent of more than 18 full-time employees. In addition to docents who assist visitors in the galleries and exhibits, other education volunteers work behind the scenes to help staff coordinate programming.

Distance learning initiatives
The education department collaborates with other science, education, information and communication professionals throughout the country to research and develop new programs, products and services for delivery through our distance learning initiative. Conferences with distant schools, museums and environmental organizations are done through multi-point video conferencing connections and equipment located in the education department’s Distance Learning Suite. Teachers and students, as well as technology providers and environmental organizations across the country are developing electronic field trips as components of many grant projects funded through private foundations and state and local governments.

Web page
The education department’s Web site is useful in obtaining information about Aquarium programs, prices and reservations. Visitors find all of this and more at  Teachers can subscribe to the education e-newsletter called Schooling Zone to stay up-to-date on the education department’s offerings. Also, the Web site offers plenty of information and pictures about Aquarium animals and special exhibits and galleries.