The National Museum of Natural History
Teacher Guide to the Ocean Planet Exhibition
April 22, 1995 - April 30, 1996

Office of Education 1/22/96


The Ocean Planet exhibition alerts visitors to the worldwide dependence of all people (and all living things) on the oceans and to the critical issues we face concerning oceans today and in the future. Starting from the Rotunda entrance, sections of the exhibition include:


Ocean Planet features a large number of spectacular photographs and some exciting short videos along with ocean related objects. Although no formal school tours are being given, frequently carts displaying touchable objects staffed by docents (volunteer museum teachers) will be found in the exhibition during weekdays until the third week in March. One cart features sea floor geology (rocks) and the other provides biological and cultural objects. Tour alternatives for classes include a self-guide and several different Ocean Planet exhibition work-sheets for students to complete as they go through the exhibition. These are included in this teacher packet as well as pre- and post-visit activities, suggestions for incorporation into the curriculum, student vocabulary, and a floor plan of the exhibition and one for the museum.


To provide an enjoyable and valuable museum experience for your students, the class must understand what museums are and why the teacher has planned a museum learning experience. Our many years of experience with student programs demonstrate that students get far more from a museum trip if they know that the trip is a learning experience not a day off and if they have sufficient background to connect to the exhibits they visit. When students know where they are going, why they are going, what they are going to learn about, and know something about the subject, they can appreciate the exhibits and see the connections to their school work. They will observe more closely and understand more of the exhibits, -- and they experience the thrill of seeing in person the actual, real, things which they learned about in books or from videos or class activities.


Everyone -- including chaperons -- who comes on a class trip to the museum should know something about what museums are and why this particular trip was planned. Museum literacy involves learning how to "read" displays, understanding how exhibitions are organized, and the behavior appropriate in museums.

Discuss with your students what a museum is.

Ask your students if any of them collects anything. What do they collect? Why? How long? Do they show off or display their collection? How is this like museums? Museums also collect. A museum is a place with collections, objects which have been gathered and preserved for the present and for the future, for research and display. Museums are places of learning -- for the public and for people doing research. In exhibits, objects are arranged to show off the object, communicate information, and tell a story about the objects and why they are important. "Exhibition" is the name for a whole section or hall devoted to a topic, "exhibit" refers to a particular display case or diorama (life scene). However exhibitions are also often referred to as "exhibits" or "shows." And, sometimes objects on display are called "exhibits." Alert students to the several meanings of the word "exhibit."

Each exhibition has a title in the largest letters and title or introductory label in somewhat smaller size letters, explaining the title and giving an overview of the exhibit. Text labels in smaller lettering may give more detailed information about the topic or story for each exhibit or display. And, each object in a case may have its own object or identification label with specific information about that particular object. To understand each exhibit or display, it is important to read the title and text label. To find out more about individual objects, read the identification labels.

Things on display are called exhibits, objects, artifacts, or specimens. Some objects are too fragile to put on display so very careful exact replicas, copies, or reproductions are made for display instead. When a replica is used, the label will generally indicate this. For objects that may be too large for display, small-sized or miniature replicas or models are used for exhibit. On the touch-its cart there is a model of an Eskimo boat and one from Senegal in West Africa.

The most common way to display or exhibit objects is in a case, a large box with a window. Window or wall cases are the most commonly used in natural history museums including ours. There are also free-standing cases which visitors may walk all around to view the objects from 360 degrees. Another type of display very characteristic of natural science and history museums is the diorama [DIE-oh-RAH-mah], a 3-dimensional life scene with a painted background. Life-size dioramas feature real specimens or objects -- the major exception are human figures which are not real but made from plaster, plastic, fiberglass, or wax. Miniature dioramas are small scale renderings of life scenes. Dioramas can be in wall cases or they can be open (no glass to protect the exhibits). We even have an open walk-through diorama in our new hall "Exploring Marine Ecosystems." Dioramas are both eye-catching as well as very informative since they show much more information than could be included in labels. They contain a view of the landscape, the plants, animals, and sometimes people that are part of the living environment of the featured specimen or figure. It is fun to look into the painted landscape to see what plants, animals, or humans are "hidden" there. Dioramas often represent an action or a story. (There are no dioramas in the Ocean Planet exhibition but other ocean related exhibits in the Museum do feature dioramas.)



Discuss why people go to museums and what they do when they are in the museum (understanding museum etiquette or manners)

After talking about what museums are and what they do, ask students why they think people go to museums. Why would they want to go to a museum? What would they want to see? People go to museums to learn something, to see real, genuine, authentic things -- things which they may have read about or seen in a book or film -- such as a genuine million year old stone tool, 80 million year old dinosaur bones, an actual Leonardo da Vinci painting, a real birchbark canoe, a contemporary ceremonial costume of the Seminole Indians, an insulated survival suit for people fishing in cold arctic waters, or the Declaration of Independence. People go to discover the stories about the objects and the stories the object tells. Many people in a museum, therefore, are looking, reading the labels, or listening to an audio or video segment, and they are comparing, thinking, and appreciating or marvelling. They do this alone, in groups, or on tours. These activities require relative calm to concentrate. This is one reason for museum etiquette.

Good museum manners allows everyone to get the most from their museum visit and protect the exhibits. Museum etiquette or manners include:

The basis of good museum manners is to be considerate of others and be careful for the exhibits. For safety and preservation, caution students not to use cases as a support for writing or drawing. The glass can be scratched or even collapse and break if subjected to too much pressure. Make sure students come equipped with clipboards, notebooks with stiff cardboard backing, or lightweight books to serve as a writing surface.


INTEGRATION INTO CURRICULUM: Ocean studies and oceanography are interdisciplinary and therefore can be incorporated into any number of subjects and classes. Among these are earth sciences, geology, physics, chemistry, geography, biology (life sciences), ecology, social sciences, history, as well as applied subjects such as engineering, architecture, materials science, medical research, electronic or remote sensing, etc. In the arts and humanities domains, ocean related activities or projects can easily be incorporated into arts, language, literature, music, and theater. In fact, ocean lessons can be worked into almost any area of curriculum, even local history and geography in land locked parts of the country. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of ocean studies, teachers can work together to plan and coordinate a broad based study of oceans in science, culture, social studies, language, and history for their students thus enriching their students' understanding and appreciation. Look over the enclosed materials to find activities and projects you might use or modify, or to get ideas for creating your own lesson plans. Ocean Planet provides students an excellent opportunity to learn about systems perspectives in the ways water, air, land, life (including humans), and the solar system all interact together to form the dynamics of the earth system.

Ocean Planet is an excellent springboard to draw students into current issues about oceans and the ways they affect today's world and will influence the students' future and the future of the world. Current ocean-related issues include consumer topics, environmental issues (pollution, biodiversity, endangered species, food, overpopulation, fishing rights and ocean conservation, ecology) as well as economic, social, and political problems (scarce resources, energy, water resources, wealth and poverty, global economy, trans-national or multinational corporations and business, and international relations: conflict, cooperation, and accommodation), and preparing for the future (climate change, sustainable growth and development, indigenous subsistence and discovery rights, patents on life forms and processes, biotechnology and genetic engineering). These provide the opportunity for students to think about and research and examine the trends and issues that affect them and their families and communities so they can learn how to make informed decisions as individuals and as citizens. What they learn will help them take a hand in coping with today's issues and in helping to shape the future.

PRE-VISIT ACTIVITIES AND PLANNING: It is important for teachers to plan from the start the museum experience as an integral part of the curriculum. Plan so as to create ties between pre-visit lessons, the museum visit, and the lessons and activities that occur after the museum trip. Be sure to tell the students about the museum trip (and other outside trips or activities), and how the museum trip fits into their learning experience. Discuss what museums are, how to learn in a museum and how to behave (museum manners) as well as specifically what the students are expected to do as part of their museum experience. Indicate how follow-up activities will be based on their museum visit. What students learn about oceans and related topics through the in-class activities serve to whet their interest and curiosity for their trip to the exhibition. Some activities should directly link classroom work with the exhibition so students can make concrete connections with items in the exhibition. The museum visit can provide the basis for expressive material (essays, art work, etc.). If possible integrate ocean materials, lessons, and activities into a number of different subject areas so students will understand the many ways oceans influence our lives and earth itself and how we humans affect the oceans. Please look at the enclosed teacher's materials for specific pre-visit activities.


Strategies for Student Work Assignments for Ocean Planet Visit:

  1. Will students work individually or in teams for their museum visit? If they work in teams, have them choose an oceanic name and logo for their team.
  2. Will students all work on the same complete set of questions/activities or will different individuals/teams work on different parts of the complete project? If students have different but complementary questions then a report is necessary back in the classroom to put the whole exhibition story together.
  3. Alert students that carts with touchable objects may be operating in the exhibition (if you visit Tuesdays through Friday mornings). Students can also report on their cart experience.
In creating the schedule, plan sufficient time for the self-guided tour or work-sheets to be completed, usually a minimum of 45 - 60 minutes in the exhibition. You may also want to visit other ocean related exhibits including "Exploring Marine Ecosystems." (This would take 20 - 30 minutes). A listing of such exhibits is found at the end of this document. You might assign each team a different exhibition hall to report on for the class. It is worthwhile to provide each student and chaperone with a floor plan of the museum as well as the Ocean Planet exhibit several days before the trip, but retain copies to distribute on the day of the trip.

Remember chaperons are an integral part of the trip. Familiarize them beforehand with the reason for the trip, the museum and exhibition to be visited, and give them the sheets on chaperons' responsibilities (see enclosed notice), and information about appropriate behavior for the museum trip (also enclosed). The job of the chaperon is to accompany their student group at all times and to help in maintaining an atmosphere for learning which includes appropriate student and chaperon behavior. Student groups found wandering without chaperons will be asked to leave the building. Stress to chaparones that student must do the projects themselves as part of their learning process.

It is all important that students and chaperons understand the museum trip is a learning experience, a field trip -- not a "field day."

THE MUSEUM TRIP: Have extra copies of the schedule or agenda including map, chaperon duties, and student work projects ready for the day of the trip. After boarding the bus, reiterate where the class is going, which exhibition they will see, what the students are expected to do, and why chaperons are accompanying the trip. You might recheck this by asking the students those same questions. Provide both students and chaperons a schedule of the activities and identify a place to meet when it is time to leave (usually the elephant in the first floor Rotunda). For emergencies, tell everyone to contact the nearest Security Officer or the Information Desk.

Carts: The objects on the carts are real, actual, objects. They are touchable but should not be handled roughly -- even the rocks from the sea floor can be damaged. These objects cannot be replaced. The biological and cultural specimens are fragile and should be handled with great care. Students should not grab specimens but allow the docents to offer them to be touched and listen to the information the specimens reveal. Of course students are encouraged to ask questions. Please note docents have been instructed not to answer questions that are part of the exhibition work sheets. Doing these on their own is the students' learning experience.

POST-VISIT ACTIVITIES:POST-VISIT ACTIVITIES: Follow up the museum visit with a "debriefing," a class discussion about the exhibition(s) and their projects. The best way for students to pay attention to the exhibition is to have them report back to the class to provide data from their work-sheets, to give impressions of the exhibition, or to create projects. Projects enhance further study and summarize class work on the topic. They can be individual, team, or class projects and can be presented to the class, parents, or to the whole school in programs or mini-exhibitions. Projects should allow students to process the ideas and information in their own terms, to pursue their own interests, and to present the ideas and impressions in ways compatible with their own modes of learning and expression. A class project or presentation of projects is a good way to reinforce learning and to strengthen the group feeling of the class. Through team or class projects students learn to work together for a larger goal and they get a sense of achievement and pride.


OCEAN PLANET ON-LINE: If you have access to World Wide Web, you or your students can check out more in-depth information on Ocean Planet on-line. The Ocean Planet Web address is:

FOR MORE LEARNING -- Other National Museum of Natural History Ocean-related Exhibits


Exploring Marine Ecosystems Hall (Off Rotunda): Our newest exhibition about ecosystems in oceans features living model ecosystems of a Caribbean Coral Reef (a tropical system) and a Maine Rocky Shore (a North Atlantic subarctic system). Discover how marine ecosystems work and the way this information is used to create model ecosystems. What we learn from both natural and model systems expands our understanding of marine biology and helps us conserve healthy ecosystems. This knowledge can be used in helping to create new ways of dealing with environmental problems. If you follow the corridor down to end of hall, look up to the right to see a life-size replica of a blue whale, the largest animal on earth. You can follow this passage to the "Squid Exhibit" (see below).

Birds Hall (Rotunda entrance): "Penguins" diorama ("Birds of the Antarctic); across the hall "Characteristic Birds of the Oceans;" look up at ceiling for sea birds; at the end of the hall between this hall and Life In the Sea, see the Steller's sea eagle in "Giant Birds of Prey."

Life in the Sea (enter either from Exploring Marine Ecosystems or from end of the Birds Hall): Find out from "The Squid Exhibit" why these creatures are so fascinating and how much more fascinating they are when we start to understand them. Other animals featured in this section are northern sea mammals.

First Floor West Gallery (by Discovery Room) leading to restrooms and elevators: Photos of diverse marine forms, mostly invertebrates.

Dinosaurs Hall (enter from Rotunda): Entrance Vestibule: "Earliest Traces of Life" and all surrounding cases; also "The Grand Opening" gallery.

"Life in the Ancient Seas"(enter from Rotunda) Entire exhibition on the evolution of life in the seas.

Osteology Hall (enter from Rotunda Balcony): Mammals Section: Look up for Grey Whale, Steller Sea Cow, Dugong, and Manatee; Look in cases with the carnivora for seals, sea-lions, and otters. Birds Section: Feeding Adaptations of the Skull, Adaptive Radiation of Shore Birds, Semi-aquatic Birds, Underwater Swimmers, Aquatic Birds. Reptiles Section: Leather Back Turtle, Sea Turtles. Fishes Section: Entire section. Diorama: Galapagos Marine Iguanas.

Insect Zoo (enter from end of Osteology): "Mangrove Swamp" Case.

Second Floor West Gallery (At end of Western Cultures) Cases on "Economic Uses of Marine Algae."


Native Americans Halls (enter from Rotunda): The Arctic (Eskimo) cases in the front and the Northwest Coast cases at end of this hall.

Pacific Hall (enter from Rotunda): "Environment and Culture" case; (Polynesian) "Fishing." "Children of the Sea" (Polynesia); Micronesia: "Seafaring in Micronesia."

South America: "The Arid Coastlands."


National Aquarium, Dept. of Commerce Building, 14 and Penn., NW, Washington, D.C.

Smithsonian Environment Research Center, Edgewater, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md.

Carolyn Sadler
Office of Education, MRC 158
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D. C. 20560.
(Fax: 202-786-2778)

Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan

gene carl feldman ( (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)