Since its opening in 2005, Georgia Aquarium has prioritized being a unique educational experience for both guests and students alike. The dedication and focus of these efforts have been recognized as Georgia Aquarium becomes the first aquarium to be a Cognia Certified STEM Provider.
Many of the students and guests that visit Georgia Aquarium may never see the ocean in their lifetime. It is deeply engrained in the Aquarium's mission to bring the ocean to those who have never seen a shoreline. This is done through engaging and educational interactions and exhibits with thousands of animals from all over the world including the Arctic, the Indo-Pacific, and even freshwater Georgia streams.
As the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere topping 11 million gallons of water, Georgia Aquarium has the incredible opportunity to provide hands-on and up-close animal encounters that serve as learning experiences.
“When a student can get close to an animal and see their eyes, or scales, or watch it swim, it creates a powerful emotional connection. Those connections help students retain and understand the information they are learning in that moment,” said Dr. Brian Davis, president and CEO of Georgia Aquarium. “Through our engaging educational programs, we work to create those life-long bonds to inspire respect for our ocean and a willingness to protect it,” said Davis.
Georgia Aquarium offers a variety of educational programming, field trips, teacher resources, and hands-on learning for students of all ages. The education loop within the Aquarium was recently redesigned to demonstrate STEM learning in each of the classrooms for our school groups that learn on-site. The education department leads two camps each year with STEM themes. One of these camps gives seventh grade girls the opportunity to learn STEM and STEAM alongside researchers and educators. They explore the science of marine biology, engineering behind research tools, and even put their STEM skills to the test by working together to build things like remote operated vehicles.
Educational outreach even extends to the front of our galleries for families and educators. The gallery guides include field guides, providing information on our extraordinary animals and STEM careers within Georgia Aquarium. The goal is to emphasize the many career paths and courses of study students could pursue in aquatic sciences including, marine biology, microbiology, psychology, and even behavioral science.
“As a former middle school and high school science teacher I understand the value of hands-on and visual learning of STEM and STEAM related fields and I carry that experience with me into my current role at Georgia Aquarium,” said Davis. “To complement that, my former role as director of a STEM-based high school and my work in Cobb County schools has helped clearly provide a foundation for immersing students in learning. Now, those experiences coincide with my current role at the Aquarium and the Aquarium’s truly immersive exploration of STEM related fields.”
Over the course of the last several months, the Aquarium has worked to create and provide new virtual educational offerings in accordance with STEM for educators and students completing at-home learning. In addition to online lesson plans and field guides, the nonprofit now offers virtual field trips, virtual tours, and even virtual animal encounters to show students what STEM careers and fields of study await them at a place like Georgia Aquarium.
“We recognize that learning is changing, and we can provide important STEM education through virtual and visual learning,” said Davis.
During Georgia Aquarium’s closure earlier this year in the effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Aquarium debuted online education videos that address STEM careers, topics, aquatic and natural science. Led by the education department and expert researchers and aquarists, these videos provide educators and parents the ability to showcase these topics without leaving their home or classrooms. All of the Aquarium's at-home learning assets are available free of charge and at anytime through the website.
“We are prepared to continue our educational outreach and learning to students and guests of all ages to teach them about STEM. As a Cognia Certified STEM Provider, this helps validate the science, technology, engineering, and math we have been teaching in our non-traditional classroom for the last 15 years and we are excited to continue that important work,” concluded Davis.