The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta offers student groups a whole new way to see the sea. With awe-inspiring galleries, students will come face to fin with sharks and more as they explore the world beneath the waves.
Self-guided visits are a popular option for student groups. Educational materials guide students’ visits and help make connections back to the classroom. The Middle School Commotion in the Ocean guide focuses on the relationship between humans and aquatic ecosystems. As students explore the various habitats, they are asked to consider topics like overfishing or imagine solutions to maintain the fragile and vitally important coral reef.
One of the highlights of the Georgia Aquarium is the Ocean Voyager Gallery. The exhibit is home to schools of colorful fish and squadrons of stingrays. The most famous residents of the tank are the aquarium’s whale sharks, the largest fish species on the planet.
“Our Ocean Voyager gallery has a window that staff fondly refer to as the ‘Wow Window,’” said Molly Johnson, assistant manager of curriculum. “Every time students see this window their reaction is, ‘Wow!’ It fosters wonder, curiosity and a hunger to understand these massive, magnificent animals. Many students, and adults, are completely unfamiliar with the diet, habitats, anatomy and behaviors of these animals. For some of these students, this will be on the only time in their life that they will see this diverse ecosystem.”
The gallery’s 100-foot-long underwater tunnel provides visitors with an immersive experience of walking through the habitat as sharks, green sea turtles and manta rays swim past. With one of the largest viewing windows in the world at 23 feet tall by 61 feet wide, visitors have many opportunities to spot all these incredible creatures.
General admission includes access to programs like the Dolphin and Sea Lion live presentations.
“Our 4D Theater creates an additional method for learning about our world’s oceans and their animals,” Johnson said. The 4D Theater lets students encounter the underwater world from an animal’s perspective. Combining 3D projection with special effects like interactive seats, surround sound, scents and splashes of water, students are immersed in the fun.
Groups looking for a more in-depth experience might consider a program facilitated by an aquarium educator. These tailored lessons can deepen prior knowledge or spark a new interest. “Our environmental educators bridge the lessons of their classrooms to Georgia Aquarium,” Johnson said. “Our educators guide the students to different locations around the aquarium discussing the importance of the location with the topic of the program.” In Systematically Sharks, students consider how sharks differ from other fish by comparing how organ systems work to carry out life processes.
The session is a great introduction to the aquarium’s newest gallery, Sharks! Predators of the Deep. The massive viewing gallery provides students the chance to spot four shark species and learn more about these creatures.
“The theme of the gallery is fear to fascination,” Johnson said. “Georgia Aquarium prioritizes educating guests that sharks are not animals to be feared, but rather need our help through conservation efforts. Facilitating guests’ experiences with great hammerheads, tiger sharks, sand tiger sharks and silver tips ignites a passion for caring.”
Offering plenty of motorcoach parking, a cafe with plenty of student-friendly options and a shop with “finn-tastic” souvenirs, the Georgia Aquarium is centrally located and close to several other Atlanta attractions.
For more information, visit: www.georgiaaquarium.org/booking/group-tickets/
Article by Michael McLaughlin
Main image: Student at Georgia Aquarium; Credit: Georgia Aquarium