Book a Discovery Lab at the Aquarium

Discovery Labs

Provide your students with NGSS-aligned, hands-on programs led by our educators in one of our aquarium classrooms.

Pricing and Program Size

What grades can participate?

Discovery Labs are offered for students ages 2 to grade 12. All Birch Aquarium programs are Next Generation Science Standard aligned.


Age 2-TK: $310 per 45 minute program. Aquarium admission included.
Grades K-12: $380 per 60 minute program. Aquarium admission included.

Program Size

To best serve your students, we require that your class size remains below the maximum number of students per program. Learn more below.

Program Policies

Please review our complete program information and policies before booking your program.

Download Complete Program Information and Policies

Chaperone Policy

Adults within the designated ratio are free of charge and will serve as the chaperones in the Discovery Lab classroom. Extra chaperone tickets are available for purchase only through your group order and must be paid in one transaction. Groups must reserve all chaperone tickets in advance to guarantee admission. Extra chaperones will not be permitted in the Discovery Lab classroom due to capacity restrictions. Extra chaperone tickets: $24.95/adult

All aides and nurses are free during field trips. For any student requiring a nurse or aide, please tell our staff during check-in. Nurses and aides will not be included in the calculation of free chaperones.

Chaperones are required and expected to ensure students comply with Program Policies at all times. The teacher/group leader will be asked to sign a Behavior Contract upon arrival. Groups who do not comply with these expectations may be asked to leave.

Chaperone Ratios
ALL TEACHERS, STAFF, AND PARENTS with your group are categorized as chaperones
Ages 2-TK: one free chaperone per two students (1:2), up to 12 chaperones
Grades K-2: one free chaperone per five students (1:5), up to 5 chaperones
Grades 3-12: one free chaperone per five students (1:5), up to 7 chaperones

Extra chaperone tickets outside of these ratios: $24.95/adult

COVID-19 Policy
Currently, face coverings are not required in the aquarium and classrooms. All Birch Aquarium staff must be in compliance with UC San Diego’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, in addition to conducting a daily self-screening for symptoms.


How to Register for a Discovery Lab

Reservations can be made online, by phone at 858-534-7336, or by email.
Reservations are required three (3) weeks in advance and are on a first-come, first-served basis. We recommend that you register as soon as possible to ensure a visit on the date of your choice.

Book Discovery Lab 

Payment Options

We accept credit card, check, or purchase orders.

Discovery Lab Programs by Grades

Ages 2-TK Grades K-2 Grades 3-5 Grades 6-12 

Learning Resources

Pre and Post Program Materials

Want to extend the learning for your students and connect to our programs? We have created pre- and post-programming resources that will enhance several of our NGSS-aligned Discovery Lab programs.

Pre and Post Program Materials 

Field Trip Resources NEW*

Looking to enhance your aquarium visit? These Activity Sheets provide additional learning opportunities for you and your students as you explore on your own.

Activity Sheets

Ages 2-TK 

Introduce pre-Kindergarten students to ocean habitats and organisms. Through guided explorations, students observe how animals feel, move, and behave while building investigation skills. 

Student max: 24 students
Program Duration: 45 minutes
Chaperone Ratio: One chaperone per two paid students (1:2)
Start Times: 9:45 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 12:15 p.m.

Meet and Greet the Sea 

Swim, crawl, walk: there are a lot of ways to get around in the sea. Learn how different animals move through play and live animal interactions. 

Science Concepts: 

  • Properties and Characteristics of Living Things
  • Observation and Investigation

Book Discovery Lab 

Grades K-2

Explore the wondrous ocean habitats of the Kelp Forest, Sandy Shores and Tide Pools. Students in the early elementary grades put their observation skills to use to understand patterns of how different animals survive in these unique habitats. 

Student max: 25 students
Program Duration: 60 minutes
Chaperone Ratio: One chaperone per five paid students (1:5)

Start Times: 9:45 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 12:15 p.m.

Colossal Kelp (Grades K, 1)

Dive into the wonderful world of kelp as students learn about the kelp bed habitat and meet the amazing critters that call this underwater forest habitat home.

NGSS Alignment: 

  • DCI: LS1.C: Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms, ESS3.A: Natural Resources
  • CCC: Structure and Function, Patterns
  • SEP: Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Engaging in Argument from Evidence 
Tide Pool Treasures (Grades K, 1)

Students explore the world of tide pools and learn how tide pool creatures find food, protect themselves and move in this dynamic habitat.

NGSS Alignment: 

  • DCI: LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms, ESS3.A: Natural Resources 
  • CCC: Patterns, Structure and Function
  • SEP: Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Engaging in Argument from Evidence 
Sandy Shores (Grade 2)

How does water affect the sandy shore habitat? Students explore what sand is made of, how it is created, and the animals that live in the sand.

NGSS Alignment: 

  • DCI: LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans, ESS2.A: Earth Materials
  • CCC: Patterns, Cause and Effect, Structure and Function, Stability and Change 
  • SEP: Argument from Evidence, Constructing Explanations

Book Discovery Lab 

Grades 3-5

Let your students get their hands on an understanding of structure and function with our Dissection Discovery Labs, or learn how we are connected to and impact the creatures of the ocean.

Student max: 36 students
Program Duration: 60 minutes
Chaperone Ratio: One chaperone per five paid students (1:5)
Start Times: 9:45 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 12:15 p.m.

Fish Diversity (Grade 3)

Through hands-on exploration of biofacts and specimens, students will develop an understanding of the roles that adaptations in body shape, coloration, and teeth play in enabling fish to survive in diverse habitats.

NGSS Alignment:

  • DCI: (Gr. 3) LS4.C: Adaptation
  • CCC: Patterns, Cause and Effect 
  • SEP: Constructing Explanations, Argument from Evidence 
Creatures of the Kelp (Grades 3, 5)

Discover an underwater forest and its importance to marine organisms. How can changes in the environment affect this ecosystem?

NGSS Alignment:

  • DCI: (Gr. 3) LS2.C Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience, (Gr. 5) LS1.C: Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
  • CCC: Systems and System Models
  • SEP: Developing Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data
Sensational Sharks (Grade 4)

Discover the body structures that have helped sharks thrive in the ocean for millions of years. Students will explore data from local scientists to understand how these adaptations can impact shark behavior.

NGSS Alignment:

  • DCI: LS1.A. Structure and Function
  • CCC: Cause and Effect, Structure and Function
  • SEP: Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations, Obtaining, and Engaging in Argument from Evidence
Fish or Squid Dissection (Grades 4, 5)

Examine fish or squid inside and out through dissection of the animal.

  • Grade 4 students will discover the structures that help the animal to swim, eat, and protect itself in the open ocean habitat.
  • Grade 5 students will explore the role of the animal in the food chain based on their body structures and functions.

NGSS Alignment:

  • DCI: (Gr. 4) LS1.A: Structure and Function, (Gr. 5) LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems, LS2.B Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems
  • CCC: Systems, Structure and Function 
  • SEP: Constructing Explanations, Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Book Discovery Lab 

Grades 6-8 and 9-12

Let your students become scientists through a dissection or exploration of an ocean phenomenon, learning about structure and function through an organism or systems approach. 

Student max: 36 students
Program Duration: 60 minutes
Chaperone Ratio: One chaperone per five paid students (1:5)
Start Times: 9:45 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 12:15 p.m.

Shark Science (Grades 6, 7)

For over 50 years, locals have observed the phenomenon of large numbers of leopard sharks gathering off of La Jolla. Students become scientists as they explore this phenomenon and understand why sharks are our yearly visitors.

NGSS Alignment: 

  • DCI: (Gr.6) LS1.B: Growth and Development of Organisms, (Gr. 7) LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
  • CCC: Patterns, Cause and Effect, Structure and Function, Systems and System Models 
  • SEP: Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information, Analyzing and Interpreting Data 
Diving into DNA (Grade 8) NEW*

How do scientists use genetics to help seahorses? Through an introduction to gel electrophoresis, students will explore how Birch Aquarium aquarists and Scripps Oceanography scientists work together to create successful breeding plans for seahorses in aquariums around the world.

NGSS Alignment

  • DCI: LS4.B: Natural Selection
  • CCC: Cause and Effect
  • SEP: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information; Developing and Using Models
Fish or Squid Dissection (Grades 6, 7 and 9-12)

As scientists, students use the mackerel or squid as their model subject.

  • Grade 6 students will identify animal structures and their functions, as well as determine the system to which they belong.
  • Grade 7 students will explore how the adaptations of the animal help them avoid predation and compete for resources within their ecosystem.
  • Grades 9-12 students deepen the exploration of animal structures and their functions to discuss how the interactions of their systems help the animal survive.

NGSS Alignment: 

  • DCI: (Gr. 6, 9-12) LS1.A: Structure and Function, (Gr. 7) LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
  • CCC: Structure and Function, Systems, Cause and Effect 
  • SEP: Constructing Explanations, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Deep Sea Debris (Grades 9-12) NEW*

Discover how human activity is impacting deep sea ecosystems. Students will collect data on the prey and plastics found in the stomachs of a deep sea predator, the longnose lancetfish, to understand how pollution impacts every part of our ocean planet.

NGSS Alignment

  • DCI: LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience
  • CCC: Asking Questions and Defining Problems; Analyzing and Interpreting Data; Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • SEP: Cause and Effect; Stability and Change

Book Discovery Lab  

Thank you to our Education Donors! With their continued support, Birch Aquarium is able to promote ocean literacy in the classroom and in the field.