Adriana Zoder: Science classes at Ripley’s Aquarium are impressive

Nov. 30, 2013 @ 11:25 PM

Have you ever gone through Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and wondered what those private classes offered were all about? I will explain. Please read on.

Since we started homeschooling our oldest this year, I looked for educational experiences in and around Gatlinburg to complement what we do at home. I found out that Ripley’s Aquarium offers monthly science classes for homeschoolers (and preschoolers, too) and signed up.

We have already attended three sessions: Beautiful Biomes, Shooting Stars, and Bones and Muscles. The price is right – $2.20 per class for annual pass holders. About 12-15 students attend per class.

The teacher smiles constantly, deals gently with the children and prepares great PowerPoint slides and hands-on activities. In our K-2 class, she teaches students in a vast array of developmental stages, from non-readers to those who can read and write well. Somehow, she manages to challenge all of them and to not make anybody feel inadequate – proof that multi-level classrooms work today as they did in previous centuries.

To say that I am impressed with these science classes would be an understatement. After Beautiful Biomes, the students took home jars in which they had planted flower seeds – their own biomes to manage. During Shooting Stars, they built neat shooting stars from aluminum foil, construction paper, yarn and tape. As to the anatomy class, they made predictions about their heart rate after several physical activities and noted them on a special form. Then they compared their predictions with the actual heart rate they counted.

These science classes cover so much: scientific vocabulary, opportunities to develop the self-confidence to predict outcomes, classroom skills and experiments. Not to mention, before and after the class, one can enjoy the aquarium.

I have written here in the past about my fond relationship with Ripley’s Aquarium – how I take my children, among other exhibits, to the Penguin Playhouse, which used to be the Veranda restaurant, where my husband and I held our wedding reception.

Naturally, we have annual passes to the Aquarium, which are dirt cheap when you consider what you get. For this kind of money, you could not take your children anywhere else repeatedly throughout the year, in a climate-controlled, fun and educational environment. The only other place that comes close is the Knoxville Zoo, but we live exactly one hour away from their gates. Sadly, we don’t make it there as often as we would like. We live busy lives, like everyone else, and we try to minimize driving time.

Back to the aquarium. The parents sit in class with the students and may bring younger children. These younger siblings behave well. You can tell their parents have taught them discipline and respect.

Ripley’s would like to also offer preschool science classes, as they have in the past, but this year they have not reached the minimum number of students needed for a class.

If you have an interest in bringing your preschooler to a science class at Ripley’s Aquarium, please call 888-240-1357 ext. 2142 or email education@ripleys.com and let them know, so you get added to the list.

Adriana Zoder, a Gatlinburg resident, is a writer and homeschooling mom. She and her husband have two children. She maintains the blog www.homeschoolways.com.