The museum’s indoor and outdoor exhibits are carefully designed to reinforce Virginia’s Standards of Learning for Science (SOLs) and national science standards. Every exhibit focuses on an important concept: Virginia’s physiographic regions, animal and plant adaptations, endangered and threatened species, environmental conservation, food chains and webs, predator/prey relationships, and much more.
In the museum’s large indoor galleries students get eye-to-eye with rare Atlantic sturgeon and walk through a two-story Appalachian Cove habitat complete with a waterfall, trout pools and endangered paddlefish. In the Virginia Underground Gallery students can see real five-million-year-old fossils embedded in a reconstructed riverbank. Exhibits in the Coastal Plain, Piedmont and Mountains and World of Darkness galleries highlight animal adaptations for finding food and shelter, avoiding predators and rearing young.
Students can pick up and examine real natural history specimens like sea turtle ribs, mammal pelts and fossils in four hands-on Discovery Centers. The Living Green environmental house and surrounding Conservation Garden showcase the most innovative environmentally friendly construction techniques. Botanical gardens throughout the grounds are planted with native wildflowers that attract butterflies and many other pollinators. Along the outdoor boardwalk trail that leads through shady woodland exhibits students will encounter rare red wolves, bald eagles, stately herons, egrets, brown pelicans and other wetland birds, playful river otters and so much more.
To enhance the educational impact of your visit, the museum also offers a full menu of formal school programs for all grade levels, taught by a professional faculty of scientist/instructors. All school programs are grade-level targeted, fully correlated to Virginia SOLs and national standards, and combine inquiry-based investigations with real museum specimens and live animals for an unforgettable learning experience. Choose from programs like “Animal ABCs,” an animal adaptations program for elementary students, or “Vertebrate Biology,” an environmental science lab for middle and high school students.
Students can also enjoy exciting space science programs taught by the museum’s astronomers in the state-of-the-art planetarium theater, which can simulate star patterns for any time period or location in the world, demonstrate the principles of rotation and revolution or take students on an unforgettable journey through the solar system and galaxies beyond.
The museum also offers 20-minute small group and assembly-style programs that can be added to a self-guided visit. These fast-paced programs enable students to get up close and personal with wild animals and touch real museum specimens.
Education director Chris Lewis says, “students learn science best when they do science. The hands-on, minds-on experiential learning that takes place in the museum’s school programs makes science exciting, relevant and memorable.”