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The Nucleus spotlight: Science Center School Experiences Virtual Catalina!

The Nucleus Science Beyond the Center Virtual Catalina

This year, a fun, science-filled Santa Catalina Island experience – a culminating tradition for the Dr. Theodore T. Alexander, Jr. Science Center School’s 5th grade class, would have been canceled as schools are closed and field trips prohibited. Instead, through the creativity and collaboration of the school faculty, along with the Science Center's Living Collections and Education staff led by Dr. Chuck Kopczak, this field trip became the memorable 3-day Virtual Catalina online experience.

The 5th grade faculty, Michelle McGuire, Laura Segre, Maria Sanchez, Daniela Schatz, Principal Norma Spencer and Dr. Chuck designed a lesson plan to recreate a virtual version of four of the main experiences the students would have had on the island — Squid Dissection, Bird Lab, Fish Lab and Invertebrate Lab.

In prior years, students in the Squid Lab worked in pairs to dissect a small market squid. By comparison, on the first day of Virtual Catalina, Squid Lab had Rosemary Garista, the California Science Center’s Professional Development Coordinator, who has been working with the students all year as the 5th grade liaison, fill the role of lab partner. Rosemary sourced the largest common squid Dr. Chuck has ever seen and dissected it on Zoom so everyone could make observations and ask or answer questions using the chat feature.

Bird Lab introduces the students to a variety of common seabirds found along our coast, looking for their various adaptions. To find these birds, in past years the students took to kayaks and explored the cliffs and rocks on Catalina. On the second day of Virtual Catalina, Bird Lab was made possible with the help of our Terrestrial Husbandry team members, Erin Hoff and Alex Soto. The keepers Erin and Alex presented our turkey vulture and military macaw to give students the data they needed to complete a compare and contrast chart of our two very different birds.

The Nucleus Science Beyond the Center Virtual Catalina 2 - Kelp Forest

On the final day of Virtual Catalina, we recreated the Fish and Invertebrate Labs. Fish Lab provides an opportunity for students to learn about local fish species. In previous years, students utilized snorkeling equipment to swim near and see these fish in their natural kelp forest habitat. In the Invertebrate Lab they would get to see many different kinds of marine invertebrate species in touch pools at the rocky shore. Instead, with the help of two of our professional dive staff, Andrew Solomon and Lee-Roy Harhaus, the students explored the California Science Center’s Ecosystems Kelp Forest exhibit and watched our divers feed many of our fish and demonstrate the use of scuba gear for doing science underwater. As Dr. Chuck cruised around outside the tank with his cell phone connected to a Zoom call, the students saw vibrant orange garibaldi, kelp bass, sheephead and blacksmith as they would have encountered while snorkeling; and some, like our giant sea bass, halibut and yellowtail that they wouldn’t have seen while snorkeling. Following the virtual snorkeling experiences they asked Andrew and Lee-Roy questions about how to become a diver, if they had ever been bitten by a fish, and what they would do if they ran out of air under water.

The Invertebrate Lab took place at our Ecosystems Rocky Shore exhibit. Students explored the different species found in the Touch Tank, including sea stars, bat stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sea anemones, hermit crabs, wavy-top turban snails, kelp snails and red abalone. Our Aquarist Connor Craig did a special abalone feed to show them that abalone like a nice morning snack of kelp.

Based on the comments that came flying through the chat box on Zoom, the students were very interested and engaged throughout all of the activities. While Virtual Catalina does not replace a trip to the island, it continued the 15-year tradition of providing fun and memorable science learning experiences that has taken on a legendary status among the students at the Science Center School. With the help of all of the wonderful people who participated in Virtual Catalina and the families and donors who provided additional support for the Science Center School, we were able to give our 5th graders a science-filled experience they will surely remember as they dive in to middle school.

Download the latest issue

Download more issues of The Nucleus

June 12, 2020 issue featuring Virtual Catalina

June 5, 2020 issue featuring Revisit Your Favorite Feature

May 29, 2020 issue featuring the Stuck at Home Science Team!

May 21, 2020 issue featuring Dr. Perry Roth-Johnson, Assistant Curator for Aerospace Science

May 13, 2020 issue featuring Evelyn Serrano, Assistant Manager of Science Live! Programs

May 7, 2020 issue featuring Dr. Liz Roth-Johnson, Curator of Life Sciences

April 29, 2020 issue featuring Reggie Williams, Community Coordinator

April 24, 2020 issue featuring Misha Body, Director of Husbandry

April 15, 2020 issue featuring Devin Waller, Exhibit Project Manager

April 9, 2020 issue featuring Monica Barajas, School Programs Coordinator

Important message to our valued members and supporters:

The California Science Center is closed temporarily as of Monday, March 16 to support efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure includes all Science Center exhibitions, IMAX films, events and programs.

The health of our community—including guests, staff, volunteers and neighbors—is a top priority for the California Science Center. Accordingly, we are following guidance from state and local health authorities as we closely monitor and respond to this rapidly changing situation.

The Science Center’s living collections team will continue to provide on-site animal care and operate critical life-support systems in the Kelp Forest exhibit and other living environments.

Until we are able to reopen to the public and welcome guests back to the Science Center, we will continue supporting science learning for everyone through "Stuck at Home Science" activities available on our website.

We are also offering a flexible rebooking and refund policy. For those who have purchased IMAX or exhibition tickets and would like to reschedule or request a refund, please call our Reservations Department at (213) 744-2019 between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

For Members with IMAX or other vouchers that may expire during the closure, we will be happy to provide extensions. Please contact the Membership Department at or (213) 744-7504.

We will keep our community informed of further updates by email, on our website and through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Thank you for your continued support of the California Science Center Foundation during this challenging time. We wish you and your family well.

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