Bay Area Sea Creatures Carpool to Schools

Bay Area Sea Creatures Carpool to Schools

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Every year, thousands of Bay Area schoolchildren take field trips to San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay, where students interact with native sea creatures, attend science lessons with naturalists, and learn about conservation issues, including climate change. Now, thanks to MTC and BAAQMD’s Spare the Air Youth grant program, Aquarium of the Bay is pairing conservation with transportation to create an exciting new educational opportunity: a mobile aquarium nicknamed the BayMobile.

Launched in March 2014, the BayMobile will transport sea stars and sea cucumbers, pond turtles, anemones, and even snakes to Bay Area school sites. The modified van is equipped to transport everything from science supplies, to a team of educators, and a touch-tank modeled on native tide pool ecosystems. And it makes its rounds for free, thanks to the MTC funding.

Aquarium of the Bay’s K-12 Outreach Coordinator, Blair Bazdarich, says this unique vehicle will significantly increase access to climate and conservation education. Standing in the Aquarium’s Touch the Bay exhibit, she says that before devising the details of the BayMobile, the Aquarium’s Education team “looked at everything we offer here [versus] everything we have the potential to offer.” What they saw was that transportation costs and logistics posed barriers for many schools groups. Not to mention, even schools with means to travel sometimes don’t get to visit simply because the aquarium receives more field trip requests than it can accommodate.

Program staff designed a set of eight lesson plans about climate change to be delivered specifically via BayMobile, opening a whole new range of learning opportunities for Bay Area students. Each BayMobile lesson is targeted to a specific age range, K-12, based on Next Generation Science Standards. But essentially, says Bazdarich, every lesson “is about being hands on and actually doing science.”

While Aquarium visitors watch scientific demonstrations by resident naturalists, students in the BayMobile program actually perform their own experiments, tailored to grade level. High-school students build real-life models of the greenhouse effect, or measure ocean acidification using lab equipment. Third graders act out adaptation, extinction, and evolution to understand how animals respond to changing temperatures.

All students will learn how their transportation choices affect the climate, our air quality and life in the Bay. After participating in a climate science lesson and experimental activity, there’s time to get acquainted one-on-one with Bay animals that are affected by climate change. Bazdarich says that simply interacting with these animals can be an impactful experience, sparking lasting behavior change. That’s why she designed each lesson to culminate with a discussion of what steps students can take to address climate change, with particular emphasis on making cleaner transportation choices. Finally, students will be invited to experiment with one new, climate-healthy behavior for one month—be it carpooling, composting, or biking to school.

Bazdarich is betting that these initial experiments and experiences will lead to lasting change. Young people “understand a lot more than we give them credit for,” she explains. “And they care a lot more than we give them credit for.”

The BayMobile is currently available to visit Bay Area cities within 15 miles of its home base. Educators can schedule visits at www.aquariumofthebay.org/baymobile. The program will expand to serve schools in all nine Bay Area counties in the 2014-15 school year.