ASU students develop curriculum for OdySea aquarium

Pre-service teachers from ASU are developing lesson plans that will be available to K-12 teachers

On Sept. 19 and 20, Scottsdale's OdySea Aquarium and Butterfly Wonderland hosted their Educator Open House, in which 12 pre-service teachers from the Polytechnic campus showcased the work they’ve done to design curricula for school field trips to the aquarium. 

The lessons, meant for students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, cover topics such as biomimicry, microplastics, adaptations and life cycles.

Approximately 1,000 educators from the Valley visited the open house over the course of the two days. Visitors walked through various exhibits while aquarium staff explained the wealth of resources they offer teachers and students. 

ASU’s team first heard about the opportunity to work with OdySea through Molina Walters, a Mary Lou Fulton Teacher’s College professor who heads the college's environmental education program. She urged her students to take the opportunity to present their lessons to the aquarium and put Katelyn Schulze and Michelle Lilly, two elementary education seniors, in charge of the team.

Lilly said Walters encouraged her to take the initiative. 

“It was Dr. Mo pushing me, saying ‘You can do this, this will be great for you,’ encouraging me to stretch, and grow, and give back for other educators,' she said. 

Schulze, also an elementary education senior, said she is extremely passionate about marine life, making this opportunity a dream come true. 

"Fun trips to the aquarium can also be educational." Illustration published on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017.

“If I wasn’t a teacher, I would have been a marine biologist,” she said.

The curriculum the ASU team is writing is designed to help teachers and students across the Valley.

“It’s not just educating the students," Schulze said. "It’s also educating the chaperones that come in, the parents, the leaders, the teachers. It’s just to encourage awareness in order to promote stewardship, because the more you educate about a topic or about a species, and the more people know about it, the more motivated and likely they are to want to protect it.” 

Lilly said that homeschoolers now have an opportunity to learn, too. 

“It’s also not just for the formal educator," Lilly said. "It’s also for Girl Scout troops, or whoever wants to go in to learn about aquatic life.” 

Their largest obstacle was developing the lessons from scratch. Schulze and Lilly had to design the framework of the curriculum, and wanted to make it accessible and readily usable for teachers. They also struggled with connecting exhibits to Arizona K-12 curriculum standards for science, reading and math. Lilly is hopeful, though.

 “It’s exciting to have something published," Lilly said. "It makes it all worth it.” 

“It is challenging since we’re all in school," Schulze said. "But I know that they’re all motivated and that they all are very passionate, as I am, about the mission for writing this curriculum, so I think that we’re going to be super successful."

The team looks forward to publishing the curriculum, giving teachers a chance to use it in their classrooms.

“We want the teacher to use it the way that best suits their classroom," Lilly said, "which is why we labored so hard to make sure there are opportunities and projects, books and videos, and pictures.” 

The team designed the lessons to be flexible, Schulze said.

“We tried to structure it so that they can take it and run with it in whatever direction that best fits the needs of their classroom,” she said.

OdySea's ultimate goal is to spread educational awareness, said Matthew Bernknopf, a 27 year-old education specialist at the aquarium.

He said he wants teachers to know that OdySea has a multitude of resources they can use for their classes, like field trips, distance learning, outreach programs and lesson plans. 

“There’s no requirement of coming here for a field trip," Bernknopf said. "If a teacher wants to teach a unit on sea turtles, we’ve typed up the information. They have activities they can do in class — they don’t have to come to the aquarium.”

Schulze said she's pleased with the curriculum’s development because she feels that students will benefit from its appealing content. 

“Sometimes it’s so hard to make a math lesson exciting, or to make anything exciting, so the point of this is that it’s not just for science," Schulze said. "I’m very proud and excited that it’s hands-on, the kids are up, the kids are developing their own learning, and they’re seeing real-world examples, which makes it that much more powerful.” 

Reach the reporter at or follow @daniellasimari on Twitter. 

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