Environmental Education Department
Taking learning beyond the classroom
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.
professional staff members, two museum resource specialists
and 275 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.
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.
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 information 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
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 education standards.
Programs change annually and include such topics such as aquatic
habitats, biodiversity, the rainforest, adaptations and predator-prey
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.
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.
Preschoolers participate in many fun and educational activities
in the Children’s Area in the Environmental Learning Lab.
The children encounter animals, read books, make crafts, visit
galleries and participate in educator-led activities with flannel
board stories. They also 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 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.
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
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.
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.
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 275 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 and assist in
the library and the Environmental Learning Lab.
The Tennessee Aquarium Library and Educator’s Resource
Room are located in the Environmental Learning Lab at the IMAX®
Center. The lab’s free resources include books, periodicals,
curriculum teaching materials, videos, photographs and an array
of educational software and artifacts, which are excellent for
teachers, school staff and members of the community.
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.
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 www.tnaqua.org/KidsTeachers/KidsTeachers.asp.
Teachers can subscribe to the monthly mailing list for Tributaries
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.