Ocean in the Mountains

With the increased use of technology in our culture, children have fewer real-life experiences in nature and with wildlife. Children require exposure to animals and nature to sustain their interest, trust, and ultimately, concern towards wildlife and nature. Center in the Square has the unique opportunity to utilize our Atrium Aquariums and Green Rooftop to foster empathy, educate and make connections in order to inspire environmental stewardship. By increasing our young patron’s knowledge of an aquatic species or method of lessening the carbon footprint, we contribute to their stewardship behaviors.

Center’s professional staff, along with our dedicated volunteer & intern team, is the bedrock of our education department. Center’s education department manages an active and large volunteer program and coordinates paid staff and volunteers in working together effectively. Staff members, educators (“Tank Teachers”) and trained volunteers add to the richness of the visitor experience by providing interpretive education programs throughout Center’s facilities. Educators provide environmental science classes and informal educational opportunities. Our mission is to connect people with nature by providing opportunities for every visitor. Patrons of all ages can participate in tank talks, Green Rooftop & Aquarium tours, short courses & workshops, lectures, film screenings, or they can explore independently and ask a member of our Tank Team for assistance if questions arise. We serve K–12 classes through guided or self-guided tours, customized educational programming, professional training opportunities, and curriculum resources for teachers, giving educators the opportunity to enrich their students with prepared curriculum, vocabulary words, resources and classroom, home and post-trip activities.

The department also coordinates the training of future and current educational and environmental conservation-focused professionals through internship, curriculum workshops, and formal relationships with academic institutions.

Our Classroom

Center is home to a spectacular 6,000 gallon living coral reef aquarium, the largest of its type in the Mid-Atlantic Region. The living coral reef aquarium houses 250 colorful marine fish and 150 live soft and stony corals. The living coral reef system will grow, changing over time, and offers exceptional SOL-compliant educational value, as well as providing enjoyment for all those who visit and observe.
Center in the Square is also home to a Logperch Conservation exhibit and education program (the Roanoke River Logperch, or Percina rex, is an endangered darter species found in no other environment in the world except the Roanoke River basin).

Located in Center’s Atrium are two 500 gallon, cylindrical aquariums, each holding up to 36 moon jellyfish. These aquariums are connected by the seahorse display nestled in a tidal mangrove estuary that is home to species such as Hippocampus Erectus Seahorses, Coral banded shrimp, Scarlett cleaner shrimp, Lawnmower Blenny, Pincushion Sea Urchin, Brittle Starfish (2 varieties: red and black), and dozens of ocean hitchhikers (including Emerald crabs and Mantis shrimp).

The Turtles of Virginia aquarium features several species of turtle that live in the lakes, creeks and rivers of Western Virginia. It has become an instant crowd favorite. Current residents of the aquarium include a Map Turtle, two Painted Turtles and a Red Eared Slider. The turtles take turns swimming and resting on a 300 lb. piece of driftwood collected from the side of the river.
Center’s multi-level green roof offers spectacular views of downtown Roanoke and the mountains of the Roanoke Valley as well as serving as a venue for entertainment functions. A significant portion of the fifth floor was opened and re-enclosed in a dynamic skylight as part of the new butterfly habitat. In addition, many of the latest sustainable, green, and energy-harnessing technologies have been incorporated into the rooftop experience for both their operational effectiveness and educational aspects. This awe-inspiring rooftop is one of the most innovative on the East Coast.

A Green building provides numerous opportunities to address Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools in key areas of science, for example, Life Processes; Living Systems; Earth Patterns, Cycles, and Change; and Resources. Our project additionally provides a unique opportunity to couple responsible water and energy use with public education. While visiting, students can learn about energy and electrons, and see it actively working at the rooftop photovoltaic and digital displays. Bio-filtration and water collection systems illuminate reuse lessons from the atrium to the rooftop. In a visit to our facility, students can simultaneously learn about our region’s past history and the importance of our local environment, as well as experiencing how we are actively helping to preserve it for the future.

Get Schooled! Curriculum

In 2013, Center in the Square funded the authorship of K-12 SOL-compliant curriculum. The carefully crafted components expose students to various STEAM-based concepts, for example, pH-testing, temperature, specific gravity, and mineral detection. Our Tank Teachers will utilize the aquatic ecosystem and Green Rooftop as a medium for integration of instruction in fields of science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics, (STEAM) and beyond. As an example, an introductory module may require students to utilize tools of math and technology to examine the design and assemble of the aquatic lab-supported aquariums and investigate the unique and fully auxiliary system components: the aquatic lab. Several of the aquarium components can be dialed into very specific behaviors to operate best in their given environment. Additionally, many parts wirelessly communicate so flow patterns can actually follow tidal patterns as the lighting phases on (dawn) reaches midday (full sunlight) and phase off (dusk). One can even program in thunderstorms and the varying probability of them occurring. The reason an aquarium is a suitable source for STEAM, object-based learning is that students visually interact and exercise critical thinking skills, regularly employing the scientific method. Regardless of the grade level, the first step is to observe and record. Students will be asked to observe the livestock and detect certain characteristics that infer health or illness in the species. Such exercises will introduce students to data analysis, biology, and environmental conservation. Get Schooled! is an opportunity to invest in a coherent, focused, and sustainable program that merges aquatic ecosystem themed activities into an integrated STEAM-oriented curricular plan, building critical thinking skills and preparing our students for the 21st century workforce.

Center in the Square will also incorporate established technological educational tools into our modules. Online collection maps, art projects, lesson plans, and activities will be available to students via museum-issued iPads, while ongoing, multiple-step assignments will be accessed through distance learning modules and classroom-based learning labs. Virtual learning tools will enable Center to incorporate collaborative labs into environmental education design.

This collaborative approach means that Center not only increases the geographic scope of children served through environmental education, it allows children of diverse socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds to construct meaningful dialogs, develop creative solutions and problem solving skills, and engage in critical thinking as they move across multiple learning platforms. This initiative will provide K-12 students in Roanoke and surrounding areas with SOL-compliant education in marine science, earth science, biology, digital arts and sustainability science through virtual labs and digital learning tools designed to increase 21st century skill development, preparing young people for world where innovation, creativity, and collaboration will be more highly prized than memorization and repetition.