Educational Resources and Activities

Ocean artwork created by students
Ocean artwork created by students

For Home or the Classroom

Explore our list of fun and educational activities which may be used in the classroom or adapted for home. Use these resources with young learners before or after an Aquarium field trip or on their own.

Other Activities


On a large map, find the areas where penguins are found throughout the Southern Hemisphere. On a separate piece of paper, draw picture of each penguin species. Then, cut the pictures out and attach them to the map where that penguin is found.


Research the natural history of penguins and write a short report and include an illustration on each one of the 18 different species. Compile the reports and illustrations in a book for all to share.

Food webs

Penguins are a part of a food chain that may include shrimp, fish, krill, whales and seals. Construct a simple food web that shows which animal eats what.


Discuss how penguins compare with birds that live in your neighborhood. Discuss the things that all living things need to survive. What special adaptations do different birds have that allow them to survive in their habitats?


Penguins are very well adapted to their life at sea. They have heavy bones, streamlined bodies and waterproof feathers. Think about how adaptations help an animal survive. Then design your own bird with features to help it survive in an unusual habitat—such as in the desert, on the moon, in a city or on top of a mountain. What would it look like? What would it eat? How would it protect itself?

My Life as a Penguin

Based on your knowledge of penguins, write a short story called “My Life as a Penguin.”


Many penguin species are in danger. Discuss other endangered and protected species such as the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, or the North Atlantic right whale. What are the reasons these animals are threatened? How can we help these animals?

Some scientists believe that there is a growing shortage of fish in the sea. They believe the reason is that we have captured too many fish. This is called “overfishing.” To help prevent overfishing, government has to set limits, called “quotas”, on how many fish fishermen can catch in a year. In order to decide on quotas, the government needs to know the total number of fish that live there. They rely on scientists to find out.

But how can scientists tell? They couldn’t possibly count every fish, especially when they can’t see them all. The ocean is so big and fish spend all of their time underwater!

The truth is, scientists don’t count every animal. Instead, they count some of the animals, then make an estimate using basic math.

Scientists are especially interested in the number of fish that live within limited areas. This is called the “population density.” For example, scientists believe that, at certain times of the year, certain kinds of fish generally keep to a “neighborhood” or habitat off the coast of New England. They can find out whether the population density of this kind of fish is growing or shrinking by keeping track of the population density within a habitat over a number of years.

One method researchers use is fairly simple. They go out in boats, catch the fish, place “tags” on a certain number of them, and release them back into the ocean. One week, for example, they will tag twenty fish. The next week, they will return to the same area of the ocean and count every fish they see. Maybe they will see and count two hundred. Out of that two hundred, they find that ten of those fish have tags on them. They can assume that if they saw another two hundred fish, they would find the other ten tags. They can then estimate that there are about four hundred fish living in that habitat.

Do it yourself

This mathematics experiment is similar to the way scientists estimate population density. Guess the number of pennies/buttons without having to count every one.


  • Small jar or bowl
  • lots of small objects such as pennies or buttons
  • water-based paint
  • pen/pencil


  1. Place the pennies/buttons in a jar or bowl.
  2. Remove a big handful of the objects and paint a mark on each of them to “tag” them.
  3. Count how many you have “tagged” and write this number next to “A” in the space provided.
  4. When the paint is completely dry, place the marked pennies/buttons back into the container. Mix very well with the unmarked objects by shaking or stirring the jar.
  5. With your eyes closed, again remove a big handful of the pennies/buttons. Count the number of items you have removed and write this number next to “B” in the space provided. If there are no marked objects in your sample, you need to collect more and add those to your total in B.
  6. Count the number of “tagged” objects in your sample and write that number next to “C.”
  7. To estimate the total number of objects in the jar, multiply “A” times “B,” and divide the result by “C.”
  8. Thus, (A x B)/C = approximate number of objects in jar.
    Repeat this several times, trying different size samples: two handfuls, a cupful, etc.
  9. Make sure to mix them back into the total population of objects every time. Remember, this is only an estimate. The larger the sample you take, the closer your guess will be to the exact total.
  10. After many guesses, count all of the pennies or buttons and see how close your guesses were.

People have followed examples set by animals for ages. For instance, the design of our winter parka imitates the ways that various animals stay warm. The muskrat, for example, has to stay warm in icy water and in the cold air, so it grows double layers of thick fur. The fluffy, inner coat traps warm air and keeps it close to the muskrat. The long, outer guard hairs are waterproof, so the muskrat stays warm and dry even when there’s ice in the water. Whales and seals depend on a thick layer of body fat called blubber to keep them warm in the cold New England seas. The blubber on a large whale can be up to 24 inches thick. It is almost impossible for the cold to get through the blubber and chill the whale. (Thick fur and blubber are two ways that some animals stay warm. But people have another way of beating the cold: sipping hot cocoa!)

Do It Yourself

To learn how blubber works, make a “blubber mitt” and see how it protects from the cold.


Make a Blubber Mitt and see how it protects from the cold

  • One cup solid shortening
  • Two zip-top sandwich bags
  • Duct tape


  1. Put one cup of of shortening into a ziptop bag.
  2. Put your hand into the empty ziptop bag.
  3. Put your hand with the bag on it into the bag containing the shortening.
  4. Keeping your hand in the first bag, squeeze and spread the shortening until it surrounds your hand like an oven mitt. (Take care to keep your hands dry.)
  5. To make sure the shortening doesn’t escape, seal the tops of the bags together with duct tape.
  6. Put the mitt on and test it out by sticking the protected hand in a bucket of snow or ice water. The “blubber” in the mitt will protect your hand from the cold. Hold an ice cube in the palm of the mitt. Can you feel the cold?

Imagine you are a scientist in a miniature submarine, sinking slowly to the ocean floor. 90 minutes later, you have traveled almost two miles down and the water temperature outside your vessel is now barely above freezing. The bright search lights are turned on and you peer out into the murky water. You don’t expect to find much life here; besides being extremely cold and dark, the pressure at this depth is 275 times that at sea level. As your submarine maneuvers around a rock formation, you see a smoking chimney of dark water rising from the ocean floor. A bizarre community of animals is gathered here — eight-foot-long red worms protruding from milky-white tubes, giant clams, big yellow jellyfish that look like dandelions hanging by strings and blind fish that resemble giant tadpoles.

In 1977, this imaginative journey came to life, as researchers aboard the deep-diving submarine Alvin discovered mysterious chimneys, or vents, and the incredible variety of life around them. Just as warm water is forced up to the earth’s surface in the form of hot springs like “Old Faithful” in Yellowstone Park, these underwater vents are escape points for water trapped below the ocean floor. Heated by underground volcanic activity, this water may reach a temperature of 570 degrees Fahrenheit inside the vent, but then cools quickly when it mixes with the near-freezing water at the ocean floor. The area directly around these vents stays at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Biologists are very curious about the life around deep-sea vents. For example, how do these animals survive in this unusual environment? On earth, all life forms depend on energy from the sun to survive. The animals living near these underwater vents, however, seem to be an exception. Scientists, have discovered that the deep sea vent animals depend on chemicals in the water, rather than sunlight for energy. This process is called chemosynthesis. Research also indicates that the vents are not permanent and may close up 50-100 years after they break open. If they do close, where do the animals go? How do they live? Perhaps these questions will be answered as scientific explorations of the sea continue.

Do it yourself

Make a model of the hot water of a deep sea vent in the cold water of the ocean.


Make your own deep sea vent

  • One large glass container
  • One small bottle
  • Food coloring
  • A piece of string
  • Hot and cold water


  1. Fill the large glass container with very cold water.
  2. Tie one end of the string around the neck of the small bottle.
  3. Fill the small bottle with hot water and add a few drops of food coloring.
  4. Keeping the small bottle upright, carefully lower it into the glass container until it rests on the bottom.
  5. Watch what happens. What does this tell you about deep sea vents?

In New England, winters are cold enough to freeze the surfaces of ponds and lakes. But why doesn’t the ocean freeze along the New England coast? And how do the animals that live in ponds survive when they freeze?

If you’ve ever visited a pond during the summertime, you were probably aware that you were not alone. The buzzing of insects, the croaking of frogs and the splashing of fish show that the pond is home to many living things. However, if you go to a pond in winter, you may think that the wildlife have packed their bags and gone on vacation for the holiday season. With the exception of a few animal tracks, the area may seem deserted. Where did the pond’s inhabitants go?

First, ponds freeze from the top down, and rarely freeze all the way through. (Shallow ponds are more likely to freeze than deep ponds.) The layer of ice at the top of the pond protects the water underneath from the extreme temperatures and the wind.

Each animal has its own way of dealing with the winter cold. Many birds fly south in the winter. Certain ducks stay, and can be seen feeding in unfrozen water. Frogs and turtles burrow in the mud at the edge or at the bottom of the pond. Some may burrow under leaves onshore. There, they hibernate — or sleep — through the harsh weather. Their breathing and heartbeat slow, and their body temperature lowers to conserve energy.

Beavers spend the fall months gathering and storing their favorite greens near their lodges so that they don’t have to search for food in the winter. Other small mammals such as muskrats, weasels and raccoons are active in the winter, scouring the edge of the ice for food underneath.

Other living things prepare for the spring. In the fall, some insects lay eggs that are tough enough to withstand the winter cold. When the pond warms up again, the eggs hatch and new life flourishes.

Do it yourself

Try this activity to see how salt water freezes in comparison to fresh water. Think about what this means for the animals that live in ponds compared to animals that live in the ocean.


  • 2 small paper cups
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup cold tap water
  • pen/pencil/marker
  • level space in the freezer


  • Label one cup fresh water and the other cup salt water.
  • Place 1/3 cup of tap water in each paper cup.
  • Add 1 tsp. of salt to the cup labeled salt water.
  • Place both cups in the freezer in a level place for one to one-and-a-half hours

Check the cups of water. Break the ice in the fresh water cup. Is it frozen all the way through? Is the ice in the center of the water, the bottom of the water, or on the surface of the water? Might a pond freeze this way?

Did the salt water freeze? Chances are, the salt water is cloudy but did not freeze. We know that fresh water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the mixture of water and salt needs much colder temperatures to freeze. This is why the ocean only freezes in very cold places, near land closer to the north and south poles.

This activity helps students describe the various components that make up a coastline.


  • Chart paper or chalkboard
  • Chalk, pens, pencils, or markers


  • Write down a coastline concept such as “salt marsh” in the middle of a big piece of paper or chalkboard.
  • Draw a circle around it and have the students think of the main components that make up a coastline.
  • Then have the students consider additional features that come to mind.
  • Add those words and phrases connected by a line to the central idea.
  • Continue to add descriptions of features for each new phrase added until you feel it gives a comprehensive picture of all that salt marsh encompass.
  • Variation: This activity could also be done after visiting a site.

In this activity, students design and create an animal out of various items (including recycled or arts and crafts materials) that has special adaptations needed to survive the demands posed by its intertidal habitat. This activity has been adapted from New England Coastlines, New England Aquarium Education Department Curriculum Guide (1996).


  • Miscellaneous art, craft or recycled materials, (i.e. pipe cleaners, toothpicks, foam packing, colored paper, cotton swabs, yarn, tubes, egg cartons etc).
  • Invent an Invertebrate worksheet (pdf, 35kb)
  • Markers and pencils


  1. Have the class brainstorm a list of the challenges an organism faces living in a coastal habitat. You may want to distinguish between challenges faced in any coastal habitat and challenges unique to specific habitats; for example: “avoiding being eaten — all habitats” vs. “avoiding being washed away by waves — rocky and sandy coast habitats.”
  2. Working with the materials provided, challenge students to design and construct a never-before-seen animal or plant that is adapted to the conditions and challenges of the specific habitat recently visited (sandy, rocky, salt marsh or tidal mudflat).
  3. Use the Invent an Invertebrate worksheet to describe the organism and its adaptations.

Discussion topics

  • Why are adaptations important?
  • How do animals use adaptations?
  • What adaptations did you create for the new organism?
  • How did you decide what to create?
  • What factors did you consider?

This activity acquaints students with vocabulary and concepts and prompts them to record their observations and formulate questions.

What you need

  • A book about fish, such as What’s It Like To Be A Fish?
  • A poster-size sheet of paper (a Post-it™ Easel Pad sheet works well)
  • An observation worksheet for each student with room to draw and describe a fish
  • Discussion questions
  • Marker
  • Tape
  • Pencils
  • Colored pencils (optional)

What to Do

  1. Mark the pad sheet into three columns or use three different sheets for a KWL chart.
  2. Ask students to sit on the floor around you. Read or paraphrase the book or selected
    sections. Keep younger students engaged by relating breathing, movement, and other aspects of the fish to the students’ own bodies.
  3. Ask the students to help you fill in the first column of the chart and to tell what they know about fish. Wait for most, if not all, hands to be raised before calling on a student to speak.
  4. Write responses in the first column, emphasizing vocabulary words that you would like to reinforce.
  5. Now ask the students to help you fill in the second column. Ask them to tell the class what they want to know or learn about fish. Younger students may have difficulty formulating questions. It may help to give them a model for starting their queries such as “I wonder…”; “Why do fish…?”; ”How do fish…?”;  “What do fish…?” Ask them to think about these questions and ask them to write down any other questions they think of later.
  6. Upon entering the Aquarium or before looking at a classroom tank, hand out the student observation worksheets and pencils. If you are on a field trip at the Aquarium, it is ideal if you can divide the students among the chaperones and have each group go to a different exhibit.
  7. Ask students the discussion questions to elicit student observing, writing, drawing, and questioning.
  8. After observing fish at the Aquarium or in the classroom, hold a discussion about what the students observed or wrote and drew on their sheets.
  9. You may want to have students research their fish and complete the last column in small groups based on their observations and research and have them report to the rest of the class.

Discussion Questions

  • Which fish did you observe?
  • What did your fish look like?
  • What did it do?
  • Why do you think it was doing those things?
  • Where does it live?
  • How does it interact with its environment?
  • How does it interact with other fish that are like it?
  • How does it interact with other types of fish or animals in the same tank?
  • Were there other animals in the same tank?
  • What were they?
  • What does your fish need to live?

Optional Activities

  • Compare two or three types of fish using a Venn diagram.
  • Have students research the answers to the questions in column two on the chart.
  • Have students write a story about their fish or imagine what happens in the exhibit tank at night when visitors and staff go home.

Field Trips to the Aquarium

Visiting the New England Aquarium is a fun and engaging way to reinforce lessons learned in the classroom, promote discovery, and instill a sense of wonder for ocean animals and habitats.