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Shedd Academy Curriculum

The Shedd Academy curriculum enables students to take advantage of all that Shedd has to offer throughout their high school career, with opportunities for engagement that intensify each year. Whether students enter STEM careers or not, we seek to equip this next generation of leaders with science literacy and a mindfulness for conservation. This program in its entirety will meet student learning objectives:

  • Nurture broad curiosity about science
  • Build knowledge and understanding of society’s impact on our water systems
  • Increase knowledge about conservation action, including careers in the field
  • Amplify ability to act for the aquatic animal world
  • Empower students to feel hopeful about a sustainable future
  • Create, expand and positively impact social environmental identity
Inside a lab two Shedd staff hold wood planks while a teen student drills the wood.

Teens use various science tools including an iPad and some sample trays balanced on a log to do some field science.

Two Shedd learning facilitators use a laptop cart and a tripod to set up a livestream in Shedd's Oceanarium.

Two teens work with a Shedd Learning Facilitator as they connect wires to a laptop, to a beaker of water, and back again.

Two young women work together on an activity on clipboards nearby Shedd's Caribbean Reef exhibit.

Teens line up in front of an underwater viewing window, taking photos of the beluga whales with their phones.

A visitor with long chunky braids peers at a large tambaqui fish in Amazon Rising as the fish peers back.

Shedd Academy in the news

Shedd Academy is committed to being active throughout Chicagoland. Hear what others are saying about this innovative partnership model.

What are students and teachers saying about Shedd Academy?

A teen wearing a mask watches a shark cruise by in Shedd's Kelp Forest exhibit.

“I loved the opportunity our students had to hear from the different trainers and researchers at the Shedd. I think it was really worthwhile for our students to hear about their different backgrounds and what led them down this career path.”

"I would recommend this to my friends or classmates who are soul searching or confused on what career path they want to take in college or if they just need a sense of direction. I would also like to advise them to go into this program with an open mind because there are so many different routes you can take with Shedd. It isn’t just marine life, it’s also conservation. I mean we discussed Shedd’s priorities of curiosity, compassion, and conservation - so there is so many routes you can take with this internship. I’d highly recommend this to anyone and everyone I see." — Mya N.

“Never stop this is an excellent way to reach groups of students that need to help change the world.”

“The Shedd Internship has allowed CICS Northtown students to learn about aquatic science in a real and engaging way. Students in the internships were able to design their own project for the school, propose the project to stakeholders, and then work to have the project come to life by the end of the year. The Shedd Internship was a once and a lifetime experience for our students that helped prepare them for college and beyond!”

“The Sophomore Career Exploration Day was excellent! It was great to be able to see the aquarium from home and learn about different positions students can pursue at aquariums. Students also told me that they appreciated the diversity of staff and liked how they could see someone that looks like them working there.”

Two teens lean in as a Shedd learning facilitator holds out something wrapped in leaves, scooped off of the forest floor.

What is Shedd Academy?

Two teens work with a Shedd Learning Facilitator as they connect wires to a laptop, to a beaker of water, and back again.

Students gather in small groups as they work on activities together on clipboards.

A teen energetically throws and is buffeted by thrown recyclables during an activity.

Three teens gather at a wooden table to add to the colorful illustrations on its surface.

A learning facilitator addresses a crowd of students in Shedd's Abbott Oceanarium.

A group of students play a card game. One of them is wearing a large blue squid hat.

A carefully folded origami beluga sits on top of an instruction sheet.

A visitor with long chunky braids peers at a large tambaqui fish in Amazon Rising as the fish peers back.

A teen sizes up an activity station featuring a magnifying glass, activity sheet, and aquarium filled with water and aquatic plants.

A group of teens play connect four in Shedd's Learning Labs.

A teenaged student takes a photo of a lushly planted habitat in Amazon Rising.

Teens participate in an energetic activity, throwing trash and recyclables at a blue tarp.

A student shines a bright light onto an activity sheet. An iPad sits nearby.

Freshman Year

While on a field trip to Shedd, students explore animal habitats and make observations about diverse ecosystems. They also engage with animals and Shedd experts to drive their curiosity and compassion around science. Students participate in immersive activities that expose them to scientific concepts, processes and research.

What might a typical visit look like for participants?

Explore (2 sessions, 15 minutes–1 hour each):

  • Participate in a guided visit or an independent exploration of the animals and habitats at Shedd.
  • Find the colorful, reclusive Mantis Shrimp in the Underwater Beauty special exhibit.
  • Meet one of Shedd's resident animals and learn how Shedd staff provide them with the best care.

Experience (2 sessions, 30 minutes each):

  • Try out field survey techniques and equipment in Shedd's Learning Labs.
  • Dive into the microbiome and learn about the importance of an ecosystem's smallest members.
  • Explore the anatomy of an aquatic organism.
  • Test out field survey techniques and practice using field equipment in simulated field study scenarios.
  • Learn and practice water quality monitoring to determine the health of various bodies of water.

Engage (2 sessions, 30–40 minutes each):

  • Visit the Teen Learning Lab and learn about the educational opportunities and resources offered there.
  • Learn about Shedd's conservation work with various regional and global conservation efforts and how to participate.
  • See animal training techniques in action and observe how animal enrichment is used at Shedd Aquarium during an Animal Spotlight.
  • See behind the scenes to better understand the operations of an aquarium and the care and attention given to Shedd's resident animals.

Two teens at a Teen Lab orientation place a specimen on a slide to view under a microscope.

Sophomore Year

Students engage with potential mentors as they discover the breadth of STEM careers as well as all possible career paths at Shedd.

Sophomore Career Exploration

Career exploration helps teens develop realistic education and career plans aligned with long-term goals. Shedd experts help them discover real-world employment opportunities. Prior models have included: Shedd staff taking part in a school-facilitated career panel and Shedd hosting career discussions in counseling offices based on interest topics.

Career pathways at Shedd include:

  • Animal Health, Husbandry and Training
  • Business, Marketing and Public Relations
  • Conservation, Public Policy and Research
  • Technology
  • Exhibit Design and Fabrication
  • And more!

A Shedd trainer demonstrates how archerfish spit water at sticks above the surface to dislodge food for a livestream.

A Shedd learning facilitator leads a line of high school seniors down a forested path.

Two teens lean in as a Shedd learning facilitator holds out something wrapped in leaves, scooped off of the forest floor.

A group of teens scrutinize the contents of several trays balanced on a fallen tree.

A group of high school seniors gather around a fallen log as they do some field science with tools balanced there.

Two high school seniors peer into the shallow water of a forest river, holding sample trays.

Two teens stand in a shallow river, leaning against a fallen tree as they peer into the water.

A teen listens attentively as a Shedd learning facilitator points out something in the bark of a tree.

A group of teens line up outdoors, holding up Shedd branded notebooks.

Two teens work on a fish dissection wearing face masks.

Teens bend over a walleye fish as they dissect it in a science lab.

A classroom of teens with science supplies at each desk and a Shedd learning facilitator leading a lesson.

Junior Year

Students participate in an elective course focused on freshwater and marine ecosystems. This co-created aquatic science course will help fulfill STEM curriculum requirements while utilizing Shedd’s resources, including a dedicated co-instructor. The class will further student’s academic development through hands-on science in the classroom, at Shedd and in the field.

Course Overview

The Shedd Academy Aquatic Science course is a partnership between Shedd and school-based teachers, designed so that educators have the flexibility to offer it in a variety of formats. This course was designed to align with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and will analyze the biology and ecology of aquatic systems, as well as their geological and chemical characteristics.

Two students use a power drill as they work on a wooden birdhouse.

A high school senior sands the top of a wooden block.

One high school student and a Shedd Learning Facilitator hold a piece of wood steady as another student saws through with a hand saw.

Two high school students show off a freshly built wooden birdhouse.

Inside a lab two Shedd staff hold wood planks while a teen student drills the wood.

Three teens collect trash on the Lake Michigan lakefront and record their findings on a clipboard.

Three teens convene on Shedd's museum campus with trash bags, gloves and a clipboard.

A group of teens stand in a forest as a Shedd learning facilitator describes the lesson.

A Shedd learning facilitator gestures at a tree with vines growing on it as a group of teens listen.

Three teens sit on a log and complete a worksheet on a clipboard.

Teens look over a wetland in a forested area.

Senior Year

Shedd hosts cohorts of STEM interns to gain exposure to many different Shedd professionals as potential mentors. Interns begin to understand how various fields of aquatic study connect with caring for a living collection and those animals’ counterparts in the wild.

What does an internship through Shedd Academy look like?

Interns create and implement a community conservation project with the guidance of Shedd Aquarium experts - and input from interns from other Shedd Academy schools. They will create a Shedd program in collaboration with the Aquatic Exploration team to be presented in Shedd galleries and/or Teen Learning Lab. Finally, they will share their project and reflection with their community, the Shedd community, fellow teens from Shedd Academy and other Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) organizations.

A teen in teen lab follows a tutorial on a laptop as he builds a piece of interactive tech.

A teen and a Shedd learning facilitator bend over an iPad resting on a log.

Mentor Bernadette Maciol and a teen lab member look at slides through microscopes.

Two high school seniors crouch next to a tarp laid in some grass to consult an iPad resting there.

Teens in Shedd's Teen Lab work together on an iPad.

A teen stands in the woods with a clipboard, filling in something on a worksheet labeled, 'Macroinvert Biodiversity Field Worksheet'.

A blue-tongued skink stares right at the camera.

A fly river turtle swims into view on a live-streamed video.

An iPad, a sample tray and a sample cup are balanced on a fallen log as a teen shines a flashlight into the sample tray.

Freshman–Senior Years Extracurricular Opportunities

Shedd offers additional programs for Shedd Academy teens outside of school (virtual, at Shedd and in nature). Programs are designed to break down barriers to accessing Chicago’s natural environments and allow them to act for nature through conservation stewardship and civic engagement.

What do these experiences look like?

Each month, Shedd’s Teen Workshops focus on a different theme, whether it's an animal, one of Shedd's research programs, or designing a new exhibit at the aquarium. There is currently one in-person and one virtual program focused on the same theme each month.

Shedd’s Teen Nature Days, on the other hand, take students outdoors into Chicagoland’s natural spaces. Through exploration and spending time outside, students can express their passion for the environment.

Two teachers converse together as they collaborate on a worksheet.

A teacher leans over to look at the iPad being held by a colleague.

Two teachers work together on a clipboard in Shedd's Great Lakes gallery.

An educator at Shedd's annual Science Educators Conference takes a photo of the penguins in Polar Play Zone with an iPad.

An educator holds up a diorama of an exhibit made by students in Shedd's Learning labs.

Teacher Professional Learning Community

There is a Professional Learning Community (PLC) of teachers and Shedd learning staff open to all educators who are offering or planning to offer the Aquatic Science Elective Course. Educators meet with Shedd learning staff and other partner educators (in-person or virtually) to swap ideas, finalize their lesson plans and support each other with teaching strategies.

What can one of these experiences look like?

This community will engage both in-person and virtually throughout the course of the school year, using the in-person sessions to develop and prepare curriculum, as well as familiarize teachers with the resources available through Shedd Aquarium. Virtual sessions will include check-ins with Shedd Academy support staff and a virtual meeting space where PLC teachers can assist each other with questions and supports as they progress through the curriculum. Teachers have written course content together, practiced hands-on-labs including fish dissections, and met with Shedd conservation researchers to better understand their work and how to leverage it in the classroom.

Two Shedd staff assist two students holding trays of samples outside in a woods.

Support our Learning and Community Programs

Looking to increase your impact? Shedd Aquarium members and donors play a critical role in making partnerships like Shedd Academy possible. To learn more about how you can support the aquarium's Learning and Community programs as a member of the Aquarium Council, email [email protected].

To inquire about becoming a partner school, please fill out this form.