Ocean Science

Overview

Ocean Science Programs

Since 1977, the Ocean Institute has used the ocean as its classroom to inspire children to learn. By examining the natural world around them, students experience science through an inquiry-based, immersive learning model.

The Ocean Institute’s campus, the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center, and the surrounding environment, provide a unique foundation that guides their exploration. Students might identify plankton under a microscope, design and test a remotely operated vehicle, compare chemical factors of water samples, touch a sea star, or view marine mammals out in the open ocean.

Each experience challenges students to work collaboratively, problem solve, communicate their understanding of the information, and think critically about what they are learning and experiencing.

Science Field Trip 1 hour

“A House for Hermit Crab” Lab
Grades K-1

Students will learn the difference between fact and fiction as they use lab equipment and our aquariums to compare and contrast live organisms with literary creatures from the book A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle.

Science Field Trip 4 hours

Advanced Floating Lab
Grades 9-college 

Student oceanographers apply sampling and research protocols for water chemistry and biological monitoring. This course is flexible and can be modified to meet individual teacher requests. For advanced students, an optional research component can be added as students participate in a chlorophyll productivity analysis. Equipment available includes an otter trawl net, plankton net, benthic grab sampler, water capture bottles, secchi disk, forelule scales, and a weather navigation station.

Science Field Trip 17 hours

Advanced Life in the Abyss Overnight
Grades 7-8

This overnight adventure combines our Advanced Living Systems Lab/Cruise with an in-depth study of the unique ecosystem of the abyss. Students examine how animals have adapted to the extreme conditions of the deep through a series of inquiry-based activities. They will also dissect a cow eye, study the physics of light through a bioluminescence experiment, and investigate the food chain of a hydrothermal vent community.

Science Field Trip 2 hours

“Big Al” Goes to Sea
Grades 2-3

“Big Al” comes to life on the R/V Sea Explorer, on a brief trip outside of the harbor to view the local sea lions. Student scientists learn about oceanographic equipment such as a drop camera, plankton net, and a benthic sampler while investigating marine habitats.

Science Field Trip 1 hour

“Big Al” in the Lab
Grades 2-3

Meet our “Big Al” fish as he searches for friends. Interact with interesting ocean creatures while conducting investigations in underwater adaptations, camouflage, and different types of habitats that exist below the surface of the sea.

Maritime Field Trip 1-2 days

Catalina Island Ecology Safari
Grades 4-8

This program is an educational adventure offering participants an opportunity to explore the ecology of Catalina Island, both on land and in the surrounding waters.  Students will develop a unique perspective and gain in-depth knowledge of this popular Channel Island.

Science Field Trip 4 hours

Earth’s Changing Climate Lab/Cruise
Grades 8-12

Students conduct an in-depth study of the relationship between Earth’s dynamic geologic history and global climate change. They investigate the creation of the Isthmus of Panama and its effect on global currents and climate, look for clues in deep-sea sediment cores, and explore the effects of the burning of fossil fuels on ocean acidity and marine ecosystems. Onboard the R/V Sea Explorer, students use marine sampling equipment to retrieve a sediment core, conduct water chemistry testing, and investigate plankton productivity.

Science Field Trip 1 hour

Good Tide Pooler Lab
Grades Pre-K - adult

A one hour lab program ideal for small groups (up to 25 participants) including homeschools, scout troops, and special education groups. The curriculum is based on the Good Tide Pooler Rules.

Science Field Trip 4 hours

Human Impact on Coastal Ecosystems Lab/Cruise
Grades 9-college

This is an advanced program designed for high school and college students to investigate impacts on our local marine ecosystems. The lab includes ocean chemistry, invasive species of Dana Point harbor, and a fish necropsy. Students will use scientific tools including water quality probes, iPads, quadrats and microscopes to determine the magnitude of ecological disturbance.

Science Field Trip 2 hours

Junior Scientific LiteraSEA
Grades 2-3

Consulting the literature before conducting an investigation is a common practice among scientists. After exploring four very “kid friendly” scientific papers, students use microscopes to learn about organism lifecycles, and dissect a squid to study adaptations and anatomy.

Science Field Trip 17 hours

Life in the Abyss Overnight
Grades 4-6

This overnight adventure combines our popular Living Systems Lab/Cruise with activities that explore the fascinating world of nocturnal and deep-sea animal adaptations. In the evening, students investigate shark adaptations, pilot our remotely operated vehicles, dissect a cow eye to look at low light adaptations, and visit the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center where our squid light attracts animals of the night.

Science Field Trip 2-4 hours

Living Systems Lab/Cruise
Grades 4-6

This classic program is one of our most popular and explores the relationship between biotic and abiotic components of the marine ecosystem. The lab includes a fish dissection, water chemistry, aquarium science, and studying the oceanic food chain. Aboard the R/V Sea Explorer, students examine benthic and pelagic habitats by deploying oceanographic sampling equipment to collect a variety of marine specimens.

Lab and cruise may also be booked separately.

Science Field Trip 2-4 hours

Advanced Living Systems Lab/Cruise
Grades 7-8

This is an advanced version of our Living Systems program. The lab includes a fish dissection, water chemistry, invertebrate classification, and Jelly biology. Aboard the R/V Sea Explorer, students examine benthic and pelagic habitats by deploying oceanographic sampling equipment to collect a variety of marine specimens.

Lab and cruise may also be booked separately.

Science Field Trip 2 hours

Marine Mammal Cruise
Grades 4-6

Dolphins, whales, seals, and sea lions are the focus of this exciting voyage on the open ocean! Students investigate the natural history of our local marine mammals using a benthic grab sampler, plankton net, and marine biofacts.

This program can be adapted for older students.

Science Field Trip 1 hour

Marine Mammal Lab
Grades 2-3

In this program, the book The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler will be used to explore fact and fiction about whales. Students use microscopes to look at plankton and krill as they explore the diets of marine mammals, sort mammal and non-mammal artifacts, listen to sounds of whales, and look at fascinating whale “hitchhikers.”

Science Field Trip Classroom modules and a 17 hour overnight

ROV Distance Learning Program 
Grades 6-8

This module-based program introduces students to the captivating world of ocean exploration and engineering through an authentic-learning experience. Students learn scientific fundamentals and use their new knowledge to think critically through the engineering challenges of designing, building, and testing their own ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles). The experience culminates in an overnight field trip to the Ocean Institute where they are engaged with hands-on activities and experiments on deep-ocean exploration.

Science Field Trip 4 hours

Sea Floor Explorer Lab/Cruise
Grades 6-8

Students study the dynamic effects of plate tectonics through the investigation of sea floor geology, sediment cores, microfossils, underwater seismology and more. Aboard the R/V Sea Explorer, students get a chance to take part in scientific sampling and exploration. Students will survey the sea floor using scientific equipment including a gravity corer, and side scan sonar.

Science Field Trip 17 hours

Sea Floor Explorer Overnight
Grades 6-8

Students become sea floor scientists and are immersed in challenging research activities that focus on coring/ micropaleontology, underwater seismology, hydrothermal vent communities, and more. They delve into deep-sea technology as they design and test their own ROV. Their experience culminates in a morning research cruise aboard the R/V Sea Explorer where students will survey the sea floor using scientific equipment including a gravity corer, and side scan sonar.

Science Field Trip 2 hours

Tidepool Exploration in the Dana Point Marine Conservation Area
Grades 4-6

Students measure physical factors using scientific sampling equipment, identify adaptations of local tidepool species with the aid of an experienced naturalist, and conduct population studies of hermit crabs, turban snails, and barnacles using low-impact exploration techniques.

Science Field Trip 1 hour

Undersea ABCs Lab
Ages 4-5

Come learn the ABCs while exploring life in the ocean. Students will look, listen, and feel tidepool, kelp forest, and sandy bottom animals in our aquariums while learning their letters. Program activities include touching sea star Arms and Barnacles in the discovery pool and listening to unusual ocean sounds like Crashing waves and Dolphin squeaks. Program modeled after the book Into the A, B Sea by Deborah Lee Rose. 

Science Field Trip 4 hours

Watershed Lab/Cruise
Grades 4-5

Students explore the science of watersheds. In the lab, students learn scientific techniques as they perform a fish dissection, conduct water chemistry tests, examine global water distribution, and discover potential sources of pollution. They complement their lab research onboard the R/V Sea Explorer, where they form research teams to test the offshore nutrient levels, complete a bioassessment of the sea floor habitat, and examine the local plankton population.

Science Field Trip 17 hours

Watershed Science Overnight
Grades 4-5

In this overnight program, students embark on an in-depth exploration of the science of watersheds. Students learn scientific techniques as they perform a fish dissection, conduct water chemistry tests, work on a biological assessment, and examine global water distribution. Student research teams conduct a soil study within the Dana Point Harbor to assess current conditions. In the morning, students’ land-based examinations are complemented by research activities offshore aboard the R/V Sea Explorer.