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Museum Classes

Our educators are trained naturalists with a passion for inspiring inquiry-based learning in K-8 students. We are an experienced team, excited about teaching and discovering.

Our programs take place in the Museum's galleries, Exploration Station, Planetarium and in the field.

Subjects: Natural Science,  Field Experiences,  Tools of the Naturalist,  Closer Looks,  Astronomy,  Weather,  Climate Change and Physical Science

New Classes on Storytelling for 2016:

Extra-terrestrials: Finding life beyond Earth, Grades 3-8

Science fiction and tabloids frequently tease us with stories about aliens and extra-terrestrials.  While you shouldn’t expect a scene out of “Star Wars”, the truth might turn out to be stranger than we thought.  Much of this story begins on the Earth, where discoveries of extreme life forms, thriving in conditions once thought of as impossible, have opened our eyes to the potential for life in many parts of the Solar System.  After establishing a rough framework for living organisms, we’ll explore some possible locations for similar life forms elsewhere, and use this to consider how life forms would have to be designed to survive certain situations.

The Spider Enigma, Grades K-5

Before you squish that spider, let’s take a closer look at all the good aspects they bring! Did you know there are over 38,000 species and counting? Spiders help our ecosystem by eating harmful insects and pollinating plants. Their webs are spun with careful precision and come in all different designs. Spiders even inspire new technology, too, just ask NASA. We'll get a real insight as to why we should harbor our eight-legged roommates, and we'll make spider webs of our own!

The Real Vampires: Parasites!, Grades 3-8

Parasites are among the most dangerous creatures on earth, even though many of them are microscopic. Being Mother Nature’s burglars, parasites survive by sucking the life out of other creatures! The most famous example is the mosquito, which not only sucks our blood, but also spreads dangerous diseases like Malaria and the newly studied Zika virus. This class is an introduction to parasitism in the natural world, with some focus on parasites that can afflict humans. From fleas, ticks, and tapeworms to strangler figs and vampire bats, no one is safe!

Ancient Insect Mythology, Grades 3-8

The world of insects is so much bigger than you may realize. Ancient Egyptians may have worshipped Scarab beetles, but honey bees were just as culturally important. The Greek god Tithonus was once a man, who grew so ancient he turned himself into a cicada. In Chinese Dynasties, crickets represented the beauty of song and therefore were revered. To Native Americans, a butterfly's appearance was an offering of a dream. In this class, we’ll take a crash course on ancient mythological beliefs about insects and beyond.

Among the Honorable Orders of the Insects, Grades 3-8

There are over one million species of insects on Earth, and thousands are newly discovered every year! It would be impossible to describe every species in one lesson, but there are only 30 or so taxonomic orders- an easier number to tackle. This lesson will explore the diversity and complexity of the world of insects through the taxonomic system of classification. We may not cover every kind of insect, but at least students will begin to understand the larger groupings: the Order of Diptera contains all of the flies and mosquitos, the order Mantodea (meaning Sooth-Sayer!) includes all of the praying mantises. Perhaps fascination will conquer fear as students realize that the “creepy-crawlies” of this world are some its most amazing denizens.

Entomophagous, Grades 4-8

How do our food choices impact Earth’s resources? How do we feed a growing -human population with these same limited resources. Even though western countries find insects “icky”, many cultures frequently supplement their diet with a variety of arthropods.  We will learn about a few of the 1900 edible insects out there do a little problem solving looking at current diets and environmental issues associated with our food preferences. Class ends with a chance to try an insect. 

Are you an Insect?, Grades K-2

Students will learn the basics about and the roles played by the largest phylum of living organisms on earth: insects. There are more insect species than all plant and animal species combined. We’ll examine this successful life form from lifecycles to how they survive and diversify.  We’ll look at the major differences between ourselves and various insects through hands-on activities.

Insect Biomimicry, Grades 1-3

We will discuss the idea of biomimicry and how we can look to nature to help us solve problems sustainably.  By looking specifically at insects and their behaviors we can showcase what we have learned from them.  A few of these include: how insects move, engineer their homes, perform tasks, and live together in large groups to survive.  At the end we will take a look at how insects have influenced the engineering of small-scale robotics. 

Never the same river twice: An Introduction to River Ecology and Hydrology, Grades K-8

"You cannot step twice into the same river for fresh waters are ever flowing upon you.” - Heraclitus of Ephesus (575-435 BC). What exactly is a river, ever-changing, yet reliable?  In Vermont, there was a time when nearly every river was a “road” for canoes, and other times when every river was treated like a sewer! By visiting a real river, we will explore how these constantly changing bodies of water serve as vital arteries for wildlife, plants, and people every day. We also will learn how rivers are always somehow moving and changing their shapes, by adding and subtracting land, and how they can also be quite dangerous when they behave badly! Be prepared to get wet and catch lots of slippery critters!

K: How we change the environment to meet our needs

2: How a river connects bodies of water and how quickly flooding can change the land.

3: How plants and animals adapt to a riparian environment as opposed to a forest or meadow.

4: Looking at how rivers shape the land through erosion.

5: Where fresh water is located and how much there is on Earth.

6-8: Relationship of environment to the development of organisms and understanding how water cycles through Earth’s systems.



Animal Homes, Grades K,1

Do all animals make their own homes, or do they find homes already constructed? Students will begin this exploration in the gallery looking for different types of animal homes and then progress to hands-on activities.

Vermont Mammals in Winter, Grades K,1

Are there different adaptations animals need to survive in winter?  Do they migrate, hibernate or gather food?  This class focuses on those that hibernate or gather and store food.  Students begin with an examination of animal pelts and then move into the gallery to look at lodges, shelters and physical adaptations such as feet, fur and diet.

Werewolves, Vampires and Zombies, Grades 2-8

Using illustrations from culture and the natural world, students explore real diseases and parasites that have inspired myths and images from literature, film and television.

You Are What You Eat, Grades 3-8  

What does your food, the human body and the periodic table have in common.  This class explores what we eat and why we need certain kinds of food.  Students view pictures of what happens to humans when we don't get the nutrients we need.

Flowers, Grades K-2

Using games, story telling and movement, students are introduced to flowers and their cycle of growth, pollination and seed production.

Fuzzy Fliers: The Incredible Lives of Bats, Grades K,1

Many people are frighten of bats, even though their harmless presence is a great benefit to humans! Usually on a warm summer night, Vermont’s bats alone suck up two billion insects out of the sky! Many of their prey are pest insects that harm our crops and us! Vermont is home to nine bat species, many of which have been terribly affected by the mysterious “white-nose syndrome.” Will their normal populations ever recover? Is there anything people can do to help? This class will explore bats with a particular focus on local species and efforts to repair the losses caused by their enigmatic affliction.

The Human Habitat, Grades 3-8

Students are introduced to the human microbiome and the cells that make up our bodies. Using a skit with Legos as characters, a metaphorical pirate ship and its crew members are attacked by different pathogens, illustrating the processes of disease and health. After the skit the class will view photos of actual cells in the human body.

"And the Mountains Should Crumble to the Sea", Grades 2-8

Have you ever wondered what our Vermont mountains looked like when they were new?  Why do our driveways and back roads seem to "disappear" every spring?  How do canyons form, and why is there so much sand on the coasts and the bottom of the ocean?  In this class we will explore all of the glacially slow or catastrophically fast ways in which water and erosion shape our world.

Water, Water Everywhere, Grades 2-8

The water cycle is the phenomenon that makes life on earth possible. Younger students will act out the water cycle and observe a demonstration of the properties of water, while older students will bring their knowledge of water in all its different forms to a series of demonstrations and experiments.  

Water and Our Community, Grades K-4

Students begin by brainstorming what people use water for, then are introduced to different categories of water use for agriculture, commerce, industry, domestic and other uses.  Using a google image of their own town students identify the location of lakes and rivers in their communities.  They build a model of a water system for their community using recycled materials, and solve a problem focused on their community water cycle.  Younger students act out the story of their community water cycle.  Older students work with a diagram of the water cycle to assess understanding.

Water and Civilizations, Grades 5-8  

Using a physical map laid out on the floor, students engage in a simulation that spans the development of human civilization.  Beginning in prehistory and progressing into modern times, students learn about the significant roles water and water technologies have played over the course of our history and make decisions about water use and conservation.  At all stages the museum educator asks for justification and reasoning behind their decisions.

Water Filtration, Grades K-5

There are many ways to clean water, but why does water need to be cleaned?  Students will learn the importance and rarity of clean water.  After being introduced to different kinds of filters, teams will try their hand at cleaning dirty water using different materials.  Which team can clean water the best?

Water Filtration and Testing, Grades 6-8

This class includes the introduction to water filtration and adds in an experience of testing the water after the team challenge. 

Wildlife Management of Threatened and Endangered Species, Grades 4-8

This class introduces basic wildlife management tactics and human impact on threatened and endangered species. Students will then role-play on how they should save a species and why they should save it by using the tactics they learned. 

Dar they Blow!: The Whales of the World, Grades K-8

Did you know that whales once swam in Vermont? This lesson will introduce students to the giant mammals that returned to the sea in order to introduce and demonstrate the concepts of adaptation and evolution. In addition, we will focus on the attributes that they share with all mammals to build on students’ knowledge of animal life. The rich and complex history of the whaling industry will also be featured, particularly for students in the higher grades. From the ancient, weasel-like ancestors to the largest creature to ever have lived, this oceanic exploration of earth’s most fascinating behemoths will be enlightening for learners of all ages.

Ancient Vermonts: Imagining our State through the Ages, Grades K-8

Have you wondered if dinosaurs ever lived in Vermont? What about Wooly Mammoths? Is it true that our rocks were once at the bottom of the sea? Were our mountains once mighty volcanoes? Were they later buried by two miles of ice? This lesson will introduce students to the long spans of geological time by helping them to imagine what Vermont has looked and felt like since the dawn of the earth. Plate tectonics, natural climate cycles, and adaptation and evolution are all presented here, yet this lesson is appropriate for learners of all ages.

Salt of the Earth, Grades 3-8

Salt seems so ordinary, whether it is on the table in a shaker, or spread on the roads during the winter.  Yet this common mineral has shaped human history.   Its ability to preserve food helped civilizations to rise, but it was difficult to obtain, thus it became extremely valuable.  Scientifically, salt is composed of two very toxic, dangerous elements - sodium and chlorine, yet salt is essential to health, making it a chemical wonder.  We will season our exploration of salt with helping of history and a dash of science, to whet our appetites for understanding this ordinary, yet extraordinary substance.

Vermont's Human Landscapes, Grades 2-8

Have you wondered how Vermont has changed in the last 200 years? How did European settlers change the natural history of the green mountain state? This class will focus on the destruction caused by the fur trade and clear-cutting industry using stories, photos, and props, as well as how the people of Vermont were able to come together to reclaim the native beauty of the state through conservation and management.

Fish Anatomy, Grades K-2

Looking at live fish, we will learn about their adaptations to an underwater habitat. Why do fish look the way that they do?  Does shape and size matter in a watery environment? By comparing fish anatomy to our own, will learn a little more about our bodies and what is needed to adapt to water versus land. Using props we will build our own fish and think about what adaptations are most important. 

Fish Tales, Grades 3-6

For millennia stories have been told describing our fears of what lies beneath the glossy surface of any body of water.  These observations of watery creatures became tall tales of the sea but are based on a reality.  Where do these animals come from and where do they live? How do these creatures communicate? What structures allow them to function in extreme conditions? How do we study them in these inaccessible, benthic zones of water? We will look at a few monsters of the deep and compare them to what we now know from scientific discoveries. 

The Lives of the Scientists, Grades 3-8

Do you think scientists are boring nerds who always wear lab coats? Then clearly you don’t know about Hedy Lamarr, a Hollywood movie star who also invented a radio technology to help us beat the Nazis in WWII, and whose inventions are still used in our wi-fi and iPhones! What about “Crazy” Dmitri Mendeleev, inventor of the Periodic Table of Elements, who believed that haircuts and shaving were a huge waste of time! From Madame Curie to Nikola Tesla, come learn about the strange, bizarre, and wonderful humans who made these discoveries, and how their unique stories helped influence the history of all humanity!

The First Vermonters: a History of the Abenaki People, Grades K-8

The Abenaki people have lived in Vermont for thousands of years, and they are still here today. By focusing on the individual lives of seven famous Abenakis from different times, we’ll explore how their culture has survived the centuries and evolved to meet the challenges of a changing world.  We’ll also discover how the Abenaki Nation has shaped the present and future of all of Vermont’s people.

Vermont Inventors and Ancestry, Grades 3-8

Ever wonder what it was like for our ancestors who took only what they could carry on their backs, arriving upon such a pristine, green land? It was tough, and sometimes deadly. Nearly everyone’s family in the United States immigrated here at some point during our country’s history. We will focus on a few very notable Vermont inventors whose families descended from Europe, and how genealogy was used to track the generations. These Vermont inventors invented out of necessity and changed the history of our society for forever.


Place-based discoveries, 2-hours long

Pond Life, Grades 3-8

Students explore a pond site and are introduced to the pond habitat, life cycles and diversity based on the site being explored. They will collect specimens and describe the density of life they encounter in the pond. 

Forest Life, Grades 2-8

Students explore the forest habitat and the differences that occur across the seasons. They look for diversity among plant and animal life, the cycles of life and death in the forest habitat, and evidence of the history of land use in the forest.

River Life, Grades K-8

 Students explore the Water Andric to discover what animals and habitats thrive along riverbeds in Vermont.  How do weather and seasonal fluctuations affect the river and its course?  What impact has human needs and uses of water had on rivers and all the life a river supports?


Franklin's Place, All Grades

This is an introduction to the museum, why it's here, what Franklin Fairbanks vision was, and how he came to be a collector. Students are encouraged to think about what they collect and how they are like Franklin Fairbanks. They will handle items from the collections that only museums might have and think about the possibilities the museum offers for scientists who study the natural world.

Franklin’s Place, Grades K-3

Learn about collecting and how Franklin Fairbanks applied scientific thinking to the world around him.  Using the collections the museum has amassed over the last century, we will focus on the following question at each grade level such as kindergarteners: How do humans collecting animals and plants impact our environment? First grade: How do our observations of our natural world and mimicking nature help inspire us to solve everyday problems.  Second grade: We will discuss and see examples how a diversity of life needs a diversity of environments to survive. Third grade: We will look at certain plants and animals moving into the state of Vermont and how they are changing the landscape.  For the final activity we develop our observation skills while sorting and classifying objects using tools like magnify glasses to highlight small details. 

Intro to Microscopes, Grades K-2

Students are introduced to magnification using hand held lenses to examine natural objects.  They are given close instruction in how to orient their eyes in relation to the lens.  The microscope is introduced with attention to its different parts. Students view slides from different natural objects, then make their own slides using newspaper and water. Each observation is reinforced with drawing.

Microscopes, Grades 3-5

Following a review of the parts of the microscope, students view onionskins and their own cheek cells and draw their observations.  They have time to explore the practical challenges of using microscopes as they observe the differences between plant and animal cells.

Measure for Measure, Grades 3-8

What is a unit of measure, and where did our units of measure come from?  One of the basic ways we describe our world is by measuring. Virtually everything has a size and a weight. To understand how the systems we now use came to be, students will re-create history by developing some measurement systems in class, including length and weight.

Exploration Station, Grades 1-5

Wild flowers, weather, birds and butterflies are the subjects of this interactive exhibit that emphasizes and strengthens observation skills.  Students view a video to tune into vision and listen to bird song for sound.  Hands-on activities in small groups reinforce the exhibit, and work with binoculars on the main floor enables students to master their use as a tool for observing the natural world. 


Taxidermy, Grades 3-5

Dead or alive? Real or not real?  Students are exposed to a history of taxidermy, which started in furniture shops.  They explore the art of taxidermy with the animals in the main floor gallery observing what kinds of materials are used and evaluating the quality of the work. 

Architecture, Grades 3-6

Looking at the external facade of the museum, students learn how to correctly use binoculars to identify its unique features and discuss what they are with a museum educator.  Students will be prompted to discover pattern, repetition, and variation in the external design and structure of the building.


Day in the Life of a Meteorologist, Grades 6-8

What tools and skills do meteorologists need to make a forecast? Every day there is a new mystery and puzzle to solve.  Clues to answering the mystery are taken from observation, instrumentation, satellites, and radar.  Two methods of forecasting are discussed:  the persistence method that uses the directions of weather movement and computer models that illustrate the changes in weather systems over time.  The role of numbers and equations in forecasting are illustrated.  

How to Make a Forecast, Grades 3-5

What tools and skills do meteorologists need to make a forecast? Learn the tools of the trade of observation, instrumentation, satellites, and radar. The basics of making a weather forecast are illustrated.  This class can be adapted to the lower grades, with differences based on their developmental level.

Weather a la Carte, Grades K-3

Pick one of the four areas of weather that will be defined during an hour class and illustrated through hands on activities. The scientific method is introduced or reinforced and applied to weather scenarios.

  • Weather a la carte: Temperature 

  • Weather a la carte: Wind 

  • Weather a la carte: Pressure 

  • Weather a la carte: Moisture 

Introduction to Weather Instruments, Grades K-2

What are the tools weather forecasters use? Learn about thermometers, rain gauges, wind and making observations of the sky.  This class includes a visit to the weather shelter where students will see how the tools are used in a real life context.

Weather Instruments and Shelter, Grade 3

Students will view weather instruments in the shelter and learn how they work in relation to what they are measuring.  The two tools for weather prediction, the barometer and wind direction, are introduced and given to students when they leave so they can forecast the weather on their own.

Weather Lore, Grades 3-5

This is a class about ancient science, and how weather sayings were (and are!) used to predict day to day and long range weather. Students are first asked for weather sayings that they know, and those are related to their original uses for farmers and sailors. Students are encouraged to discover the common characteristics of the sayings, for example, rhyme to help memory, and references to natural science such as the sky, animals, insects, and plants.  How does the Groundhog do as a weather forecaster?  This and other sayings will be analyzed from our current understanding of weather events.

Natural Extremes in Vermont, Grades 5-8

Although Vermont rarely finds itself in the headlines for weather, our recent encounter with Hurricane Irene demonstrates that we can experience severe, damaging and dangerous weather conditions.  Severe weather conditions such as tropical storms, heavy snow, ice storms, thunderstorms and tornadoes are the subject of this class. Through demonstrations and hands-on activities, students will explore the power of nature.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!, All Grades    

What is snow?  Starting with the creation of snowflakes, students will explore the storms that make them, and, once on the ground, how snow changes the landscape around us.  Younger students will learn how to make six-sided snowflakes, be introduced to the geography of snow, and hear about Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley.  Older students will go deeper into snowstorms, geography and snowfall, touching on the connection between snow and the Ice Age. 

Climate Change

Living in a Greenhouse 1: An Introduction to Climate and Atmosphere, Grades 4-8

In order to understand how our climate is changing today, we should begin by understanding how the atmosphere controls our global temperature. Not just on Earth, but also on Mars and Venus! As the Earth’s atmosphere and tilted axis have changed over time, so has the Earth’s climate. How is the human-caused climate change different from the past episodes of climate change the Earth has already seen, such as the Ice Ages and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum? This class will be the first in a two part series about Climate Change.

Living in a Greenhouse 2: Combatting and Coping with Climate Change, Grades 4-8

Students should have already taken “Living in A Greenhouse, Part I” or be familiar with the concepts and principles that govern Earth’s atmosphere and climate. As we continue in this subject, this lesson will focus on the outcomes and possible solutions to climate change. It is highly encouraged that students spend some class time “brainstorming” ideas, social or technological solutions, that might help reverse or slow climate change. Students should prepare themselves for this lesson by watching this brief, highly recommended video produced by PBS: “Climate Science: What You Need To Know”

Megafauna: Where Did They Go?, Grades 3-8

When someone mentions woolly mammoths, or saber-tooth tigers, we start imagining a very different world than our own.  Yet, in terms of geological time or biological time, they part of our very recent past.  They disappeared within human memory, recorded in cave drawings, and even the use of bones as forms of art, shelter, and tools.  The mystery remains; what caused these large animals to become extinct?  Students will see examples of these animals, and learn about the people and climate of the world tens of thousands of years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age.  From this knowledge, we will explore the possible reasons for extinction, from changes in climate to human influences. 

Weather Hazards Board Game, Grades 3 and 4

Following an introduction to the greenhouse effect students will role-play how heat is trapped in the atmosphere.  The game will focus on how green house gas works in the atmosphere and about weather related hazards that occur as a result of global warming will be discussed.

Consumption Board Game, Grades 5 and 6

Through the use of a board game, students will explore the role of climate change in the geosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere here on Earth. The students will examine daily practices that influence global warming and carbon footprints based on consumption and purchasing decisions that students and their families make.

Delegation Simulation, Grades 6-8

This class sets up the scenario of a delegation where national parks and private companies tackle their role in climate change.  Each group will role play different players in this “community” advocating for their own interests.  Issues of human impact, species protection, and biodiversity in Vermont will be part of the problem. How can the group establish a responsive system for managing the national park based on all the variables?  


What's Zap?, Grades 3-5

Through stories and demonstrations, students are introduced to electricity and the scientists who made important discoveries.  Static, DC and AC electricity and the structure of the atom will be introduced and demonstrated. 

What's the Matter? The Periodic Table, Grades 5-8

This class is appropriate for students who have had some introduction to the periodic table.  Students learn how to read the table in a basic way and use technology to animate the discussion.  The class includes hands-on experiences with objects and stories that illustrate the different characteristics of the elements.

Freezing and Boiling, Grades 3-8

What happens to a substance when it freezes and boils?  The best way to find out is to try it.  Students will conduct a series of experiments that demonstrate these basic scientific principles

Have a BallGrades K - 4

How can you move a ball when it is at rest?  Students explore the many ways to do so, then discuss gravity, and friction and how those forces act upon a ball moving down a ramp.  They are given materials that can speed up or slow down the movement of the ball and are challenged to work with those variables.  Who can move the ball the farthest?  Who can slow it down the most?  Older students are given a real life problem to solve using the same principles.

Gravity: A Weighty Subject, Grades 6-8

One of the most fundamental, and most mysterious, forces in nature is gravity.  While there are some obvious effects of gravity in everyday life, students will work with demonstrations to quantify and predict the effects of gravity in different situations. Concepts will include orbit, weight and density.  Students will apply their new understanding to earth, our solar system and the broader universe.

Simple Machines, Grades K-4

Students will be introduced to the six simple machines of pulleys, levers, wedges, wheels, inclined planes, and screws that are the basic components of many familiar machines.  Taking a look at the construction machines on Main Street, students will think about how complex machines work.  The students will then be challenged to use both simple machines separately and together to solve problems in teams.

Energy Antics!, Grades 4-8

Energy is always a “hot” topic in winter.  But in recent years, several events have “energized” our awareness on how dependent we are on reliable and affordable energy.  In addition, people are looking increasingly to renewable and environmentally friendly energy.  This class explores the whole concept of energy, from what it is, where it comes from, and how it dominates everyday life.  Classroom demonstrations will expand the principles of putting energy to work - including motion, friction, and heat - to “fuel” discussions on renewable and non-renewable energy sources as students are challenged to develop a better understanding of how they use energy, and what are the consequences.

A Bright Idea! - the Nature of Light and Solar Power, Grades 3-8

In a single sunny day, the earth receives enough solar energy to supply the entire world with electricity for four whole months!! The problem is finding ways to turn all of that light into another form of energy, like electricity or hot water, that we can readily use. What is light? What is solar power? How do solar panels work? Even in our cloudy and wintery climate, many of our neighbors now rely on the sun to supply their electricity and even home heating. Will the sunlight give way to a brighter, and cleaner, energy future? This class will introduce students to the concepts of light energy and photons and explore how their energy can be transformed into other useful forms.

Solar Discovery, Grade K

Students will observe various materials and the temperatures of those materials when placed in a small greenhouse. If raining we will look closely soil, rocks and water the temperature differences under a heat lamp indoors during the class.  We will then try out materials that can reduce the temperatures of our sun-heated materials.

Playing with Light, Grades 1,2

How can we take light and move it around?  Can we see if there is no light available? We will try to capture light using different materials and see if we can direct the beam.  With small solar panels, we will see if we can harness that energy to make a flashlight work.