How A Family Trip to the Aquarium Helped Me Think About Instruction

Over the Winter Break, our family took a trip to the Long Beach Aquarium. This trip was part of a birthday celebration for our twins, Jackson and Siena, who just turned 8. We knew we were in for a fun, interesting day seeing aquatic animals and learning about humans’ impact on the ocean. I hoped that my 4 kids would have fun, learn about a few animals, and gain some idea about their connection to the ocean. img_1438

What I didn’t expect to get was an insight into lesson design.

I won’t go into details about our day; it was wonderfully long and we hit every spot of the aquarium at least once. There was- uncharacteristically- very little whining and a whole lot of smiles. It was a great family day.

My takeaway as an educator, however, happened a few days after the trip.  It was a rare day that I had just one kid in the car with me, and I wanted to start a conversation with him, so I asked, “What was the best part about the aquarium?” Without hesitation, my 8 y/o son answered, “Touching the jelly fish.” The rest of the conversation went like this:

Me: “Ok….what was the next best thing?” IMG_1421.JPG

Son: “Touching the rays and sharks.”

Me: “OK…..what was third best?”

Son: “Touching the horseshoe crabs.”

After 5+ hours, seeing 1000’s of animals, watching videos, listening to marine experts, and the ‘best’ things were the touch tanks. Over the next few days, I held the same conversations with my other three kids.  The only variation in their answers was the order of their favored touch tanks. After 4 of these conversations I came to a realization.

My 4 kids could not be any different in the way they act and learn. They are great examples of varied learning styles. Regardless, their favorite, lasting memory of the trip was getting to touch the animals.  Interacting, touching, feeling. Wet, slimy, rough.

What does this mean for instruction? It indicates to me that DOING will always trump SEEING, READING, or HEARING. Our classrooms must be places that create memories and excitement.  I want my own kids coming home from school excited about their learning. They won’t come home excited about a video.  They won’t come home excited about a lecture.  They WILL come home excited about things they make. What we can touch, we can learn.

My hope everyday is that the 4,600ish students in our District come home excited about what they have done and learned.  As we move forward, making sure that our teaching and learning have opportunities to touch, hold, and make.




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