BayMobile Brings the Bay Straight to Schools
Thousands of students will be seeing stars—sea stars, that is—in Bay Area classrooms this school year. It’s all thanks to a visit from the BayMobile, a traveling aquarium that brings sea creatures and a team of talented educators from San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay straight to schools free of charge. The BayMobile launched in March 2014 with a $300,632 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s Spare the Air Youth grant program.
With the help of the BayMobile’s built-in lab, staff members teach students about the science of climate change and introduce them to some of the Bay’s animal ambassadors, including sea cucumbers, pond turtles, sea hares and terrestrial snakes. The modified 18-foot-long van, wrapped in an aquamarine hue and decorated with various ocean creatures, is fitted with compartments for transporting science supplies and a portable touch-tank modeled on native tide-pool ecosystems. About half of the supplies go into the classroom with the teachers, with the other half set up beside the BayMobile for students to visit.
Last spring, approximately 4,500 students participated in BayMobile classroom lessons, and so far this summer the BayMobile has visited libraries and the EcoCenter in Heron’s Head Park near Bayview-Hunters Point in San Francisco, the Bay Model of Sausalito, and various summer camps and summer school classes, reaching another 1,000 students and campers.
Field trips may be educational and fun, but transportation costs, time constraints and logistics often pose barriers for school groups, and Aquarium of the Bay receives more field trip requests than it can accommodate. The BayMobile fills that gap. Aquarium program staff designed a set of eight lesson plans targeted to specific age groups from K-12 to take on the road to school sites. All courses meet the National Education Association’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) teacher training program requirements and Next Generation Science Standards (based on the Framework for K–12 Science Education developed by the National Research Council). While visitors to the Aquarium’s home on the San Francisco waterfront can watch scientific demonstrations by resident naturalists, the BayMobile educators go the extra mile, allowing students to perform their own experiments tailored to grade level.
Each of the lessons is hands-on. Kindergarteners and first-graders get to observe how humans have affected the balance of natural cycles on Earth and explore through play how new innovations (such as solar power and other alternative energy options) can help to return balance to our environment. Older elementary school kids explore the complex food web and observe changing chemistry in an ocean-like environment, with middle-schoolers diving right into ocean chemistry, using multimedia and ball-and-stick-style molecular models. High school students collect data to explore the chemistry behind ocean acidification, build real-life models of the greenhouse effect, and interactively resolve what humans can do to make a positive difference.
Blair Bazdarich, K-12 outreach coordinator, said each lesson culminates with a discussion of what steps students can take to address climate change, with an emphasis on making cleaner transportation choices. Students are challenged to experiment with one new climate-healthy behavior—such as carpooling, composting or biking to school—for a month.
“We’re so excited to kick off the first full year of BayMobile programs,” said Bazdarich. “As a nonprofit, Aquarium of the Bay is extremely thankful for MTC’s generous contribution to this project, which allows us to offer free BayMobile trips to schools throughout all nine Bay Area counties. This year, we’re hoping to spread climate science and conservation to over 13,000 students—nearly doubling our usual reach from within the Aquarium walls. We can’t wait to start ‘Bringing the Bay Your Way!’”
Educators at schools in all nine Bay Area counties (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma) can schedule a visit from the BayMobile. Classes last 60 minutes and are suitable for 15-35 students. Three to four classes per school visit can be reserved, but all classes on a given date must select the same program. For further information and reservation requirements, visit aquariumofthebay.org/baymobile or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.