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Hands-On STEM Programs from Shedd Aquarium Spark Curiosity for Teachers and Classrooms

October 15, 2019

Two teens dissect the stomach of a fish, looking to see what it's been eating.

Shedd Aquarium, a leader in science education and immersive, hands-on learning, is expanding its offerings for schools and classrooms to explore the natural world, make discoveries and build an affinity for the aquatic world. These changes are focused on improving flexibility and allowing teachers to connect with Shedd’s learning team from their own classroom on their own schedule and tailored to their grade and science learning standards.

From spending a day examining coral reef ecosystems to conducting squid dissections, Shedd’s learning programs expand the classroom’s curriculum with incredible access and engaging topics like animal behavior science, marine biology, habitats and environments, natural adaptations, ecosystems, anatomy and water chemistry.

Beyond the classroom, Shedd also offers spaces like the Science Educators Conference, where teachers can meet other teachers, get sample teaching strategies and other resources. Plus, educators from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin can receive a complimentary Shedd ticket by registering online. See below for additional information about the aquarium’s new, refreshed and returning school and teacher programs for 2019/2020.

Kids in a squid dissection course put thin slices of skin onto microscope slides to look at up close.


Learning Labs are inquiry-based programs where students gain skills in scientific methods, collaboration, communication, teamwork and more. Learners roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty while exploring natural curiosities when they dissect a fish or squid, test water samples, analyze and interpret results, and propose solutions. For the first time this year, Learning Labs can take place outside of the aquarium, on location at a school and in a classroom!

  • $125 per program at Shedd/$145 per program at your school
  • Available on Tuesday-Friday at Shedd/Monday, Wednesday and Friday at your school

Exploring Anatomy: Squid Dissection (Grades 3-8)

Examine the morphology of a squid during a hands-on dissection. Students work together to identify parts of a squid and explore the many adaptations that help this invertebrate be the predator—not the prey—in its habitat.

Lakeshore Ecology (Grades 6-8)

Learn how Shedd's team of scientists monitor and evaluate the water quality for the aquatic animals that call Shedd home by performing water-quality tests. Students explore exhibit habitats and measure the health of an aquatic system using the same methodology with samples from Shedd and Lake Michigan. Students discuss their findings, compare samples, and share out about their data and conclusions.

Exploring Pathology (Grades 9-12)

Through a guided, hands-on dissection, students play the role of Shedd’s animal health team as they use various pathology procedures to diagnose the health of their specimen. Collect data on physical conditions of their fish using microscopes and other laboratory equipment.

Great Lakes: Testing the Waters (Grade 9-12)

Students go behind-the-scenes at Shedd and apply problem-based learning to explore an imbalance in a Great Lakes ecosystem. Students explore exhibit habitats and perform water-quality tests. They are then challenged to interpret their results to evaluate the health of the Great Lakes and some of its fish populations.

A young visitor holds up an ipad to photograph a habitat.


Enhance your field trip to Shedd with a Science Tech Trek, where learners take on the role of a scientist. Using tablets, students interact with and collect data on animals and their habitats. With six unique, innovative programs, students work in pairs to make discoveries in science, technology, critical thinking and peer learning.

  • $95 per program/50 minutes
  • Available Tuesday – Friday

Needs of Animals and Plants (Grade K)

Students will explore the basic needs of animals at the aquarium and how these needs are met within the Amazon Rising habitats. They’ll also meet an animal face to face. Students will work in pairs to understand the tools, human activities and resources necessary to care for Shedd's animals.

Animal Defenses (Grade 1)

Students will survey animals in the Caribbean Reef to identify and observe defensive structures and behaviors used for survival. Working in pairs, students will predict and analyze what could happen when an animal’s defenses don’t function properly.

Coral Reef Relationships (Grade 2)

Explore everything from sharks to sea anemones in Shedd Aquarium's reef ecosystem exhibits. Students will identify and examine critical relationships in a coral reef ecosystem and explain how animals use the reef to meet their needs.

Biomimicry in Engineering (Grade 3)

Our waterways face threats from trash to chemical pollution, but students can become engineers to address these problems. Many animals at the aquarium have unique structures that help them accomplish specific tasks such as digging, swimming, snapping, or clawing.

Sound Waves and Dolphins (Grade 4)

Animals need to communicate, just like people do, and in this activity, students will learn how sound waves work by examining dolphin communication.

Great Lakes Invaders (Grade 5)

What might happen when an invasive animal starts feeding in the Great Lakes ecosystem? Students will closely examine the organisms that make up an aquatic food chain in the Great Lakes.

A Shedd facilitator sets up a laptop outside of Shedd's animal hospital so that students attending a virtual field trip can look and listen in.


Bring the aquarium experience into the classroom with a virtual field trip, available to schools across the country. Live from Behind the Scenes is an interactive opportunity for students to learn in real-time from Shedd’s experts who can answer questions about the animals, their habitats and what it takes to have a career in the science field. This innovative program allows classrooms to get a rare glimpse behind-the-scenes to inspire students with real examples of STEM problem-solving. With three different offerings, each 50-minutes, classrooms can join experts for a preventative animal examination of a turtle in Shedd’s animal hospital, learn more about adaptations of sharks from Wild Reef or observe penguins to see how Shedd’s trainers care for these birds.

  • $125 for one classroom/$95 each for up to two additional groups in the same program
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • Grades K-8
Teachers at Shedd's Educator Open House work on an iPad activity in Polar Play Zone.


Join fellow Chicagoland educators for a full day of learning with sample science teaching strategies that will connect your classroom to Shedd’s animals, exhibits and science resources. Illinois teachers will receive 7 clock hours upon completion. Workshops, meals, parking, swag bag with resources, a tour of the aquarium, and an aquatic presentation are included.

  • $75 per person
  • Saturday, Nov. 9
  • Science Teachers K-12


Build a custom professional development in-service for a group of formal or informal educators. During this interactive collaborative training, Illinois educators can receive clock hours. Topics have included aquatic science, informal teaching practices, object-based learning, visual thinking strategies, field trip planning, and robotics. Sessions are customizable to fit your group’s needs as far as timing, topics, location, number of participants and more.

  • $20-$25 per participant
  • Pick your own date
  • Bring Shedd education staff to your school, or host an in-service at Shedd
  • Email: [email protected] to begin planning

PHOTOS/VIDEO: High resolution visuals of Shedd Aquarium’s learning programs is available for download:
Photo Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium