Sandy Shores: A window into Birch Aquarium’s school programs

Birch Aquarium School Program

Local elementary school students learn about the ocean and its habitats during a Birch Aquarium School Program.

By Bekah Logan, Birch Aquarium naturalist

“And then, over thousands of years, Rocky makes his way down the mountain, tumbling and tossing about, getting pushed around by wind and rushing water until—finally—he ends up on the beach as a small grain of sand.”

I was deep into a story describing how sand is made for a group of enraptured 2nd graders during one of our school programs: Sandy Shores. As the public interpretive center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, Birch Aquarium at Scripps is also a host to 40,000+ field-tripping school children every year. Sandy Shores is just one of the many classes available for teachers and their students.

Our programs follow statewide and national science standards for Pre-K to 12th grade students and range in subjects from specific marine habitats, such as tide pools, to squid and fish dissections. They all feature dynamic lesson plans centered on interactive, student-focused, and inquiry-based learning.

School groups love the informal atmosphere of our classroom programs—no added performance pressure with tests or homework!—while teachers love how we reinforce subjects they’re teaching in class or introduce their students to new concepts entirely.

Within the hour-long classes, instructors raise a subject then build upon what the students already know.

I could tell the recent 2nd grade class from Dailard Elementary knew a lot about the sandy shore, so I focused on reinforcing their knowledge while providing a fuller picture of how sandy shorelines form. During class, the students filled out a simple worksheet designed to bolster what they’d learned in our discussion, followed by interactive stations throughout the classroom. In Sandy Shores, students touch a variety of shore animals, investigate sand samples from all around the world with microscopes, and design their own sandy shore animal with adaptations to survive.

I heard squeals when the students encountered sand stars and their wiggling tube feet, gasps as they looked at a sample of grainy, black sand from Hawaii under a microscope, and silence from the Design-a-Creature station—they were too deep into the creative process!

They all did a great job; it was clear to me they had a greater understanding of how the sandy shore is formed and its importance to ocean animals as a habitat. Their excitement was palpable as they left with their teachers to explore the rest of the aquarium.

As one girl said while walking out, “This is the best day, ever!”


Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the largest provider of K-12 ocean science education in San Diego County, educating more than 40,000 local school children every year. All programs are aligned with state and national science standards. Learn more about Birch Aquarium’s School Programs.

The Aquarium receives no direct state or city support and relies on earned income and gifts to operate our exhibit and education programs. Join our efforts to educate the next generation about the ocean. 

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  • JesterSD
    January 28, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Bekah, You are an awesome teacher!

  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego