A classroom full of wide eyes widen even further as Aquarium Distance Learning Coordinator Sasha Orman picks up a live, scaly, toothy little American alligator and puts him closer to the camera for the awestruck class to inspect. Even across the many miles, their reaction is palpable.
“That’s my favorite part, hearing the ‘oohs, ahhs,’ the smiles, laughing, and answering all of their questions,” says Sasha. “I love seeing the kids’ reactions.”
Sasha sees reactions like these from all across the country thanks to the web-based video conferencing technology of Aquavision. Via the Flint Hills Resources Distance Learning Studio, she beams out interactive and unique STEM-based educational programs from the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi all the way to even Canada and Mexico. Sasha says the education department is trying to connect with schools in Australia to deliver programs there later this year.
Programs like those featuring live American alligators are especially popular in landlocked areas.
“When we project these live feeds from the Aquarium, for some of these kids, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen a live dolphin or shark,” explains Sasha.
Sasha’s educational background in animal biology enables her to share her passion for animals and science with students at every age level. Starting as a seasonal staff member in the Aquarium’s education department; Sasha worked her way up to her current position. She largely credits growing up with a father who was a Texas Game Warden as instilling in her a passion for wildlife and conservation.
“Growing up, I was always around wildlife,” she says, “Not only would my dad help rehabilitate injured or confiscated animals, he encouraged us to be submerged in nature…whether that meant going camping, volunteering at the (Gladys Porter) zoo, playing outside, you name it.”
Handling an alligator is no big deal for someone who regularly saw possums, ducks, bobcats, and all manner of creatures as a youngster. But the best was her father’s stories, Sasha says. For show and tell in elementary school, Sasha took her father to share with her classmates, she recalls with a laugh.
That same passion for sharing with others about animals has gotten Sasha to where she is today. She regularly develops STEM programs depending on animals available at the Aquarium and also aligns lesson plans with TEKS-based teaching standards, sometimes even national standards, and Ocean Literacy, NOAA’s official teaching principles.
She will regularly include incredible biofacts like turtle skulls and carapaces (baleen whale plates, anyone?), as well as live animals including jellies, seastars, urchins, and more in her programs to capture the interest of students. The otter program even involves mailing the class’ teacher a box of imitation felt otter pelts so that the children can themselves feel just how thick an otter’s fur is.
“I just really enjoy sharing my love of animals and passion for science with kids,” says Sasha, “I love spreading that knowledge and information to younger generations.”
Many generations will benefit from the opening of the Aquarium’s upcoming Caribbean Journey wing in spring 2017. According to Sasha, the new animals exhibited will provide her with a whole new world of potential programs. This challenge, just like that of spreading educational messages of conservation as wide as she can, is one she plans to face head on, camera first.
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