Terrapins in the Classroom

Special Opportunity

  • Duration

    Multiple Days

  • Grades

    3 - 12

  • Price

    Free; Material costs may apply

  • Where

    Your School or Location,

    In the Field

Overview

The National Aquarium's Terrapins in the Classroom program brings Maryland students face to face with the Maryland state reptile, the diamondback terrapin.

Each fall, hatchling terrapins are collected from Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay and provided to Maryland schools where students may care for, observe and learn from them throughout the year. The National Aquarium's Terrapins in the Classroom program is part of the larger Terrapin Education and Research Partnership (TERP) program that collectively facilitates getting over one hundred terrapins to classrooms across Maryland each year.

During the terrapin's stay—from October until late April or early May—students collect growth data, observe behaviors, learn animal care techniques and research the natural history of the species. In Spring, the Aquarium offers the opportunity for some students to take a field trip to Poplar Island to release the terrapins back into their natural habitat. Teachers may have their classes participate over consecutive years; participation is free, although some material costs may apply for maintaining equipment.

The combination of scientific application, hands-on involvement, and emotional attachment to the terrapins creates an unprecedented opportunity to inspire a meaningful connection between students and the Chesapeake Bay. When students wave goodbye to the terrapins, they better understand the direct connection between the health of the Chesapeake Bay and "their" terrapin. Our goal is to allow these little hatchlings to spark a lifelong sense of environmental stewardship and respect for the natural world.

The TERP head-start program uses ongoing research conducted by Dr. Willem Roosenburg, associate professor of biology at Ohio University, a national authority on terrapins and a leading voice in the conservation of the species. Data from our program supports Dr. Roosenburg's work and helps to establish population-level impacts of our and other regional terrapin head-start programs.

Program Requirements

In order to participate in Terrapins in the Classroom, teachers must:

  • Attend a mandatory training course in September prior to receiving their terrapin.
  • Share evidence of at least 4 Student Connections with your coordinator in the form of brief lesson descriptions before the terrapin is released.
  • Maintain a safe and healthy habitat for the terrapin in a classroom free of any other reptiles or amphibians. Regular habitat maintenance includes enclosure cleaning, feeding and data collection (training and manual will be provided).
  • Maintain frequent and regular email communication with the program coordinator to provide information and updates as requested.
  • Agree to return the terrapin to the National Aquarium for a veterinary exam and tagging with Dr. Willem Roosenburg on a designated date in the spring and retrieve the terrapin when the exam is complete.
  • Involve your third through twelfth grade students in the terrapin's care and data collection, including regular weight and measurement recordings kept in a shared Monthly Growth Data Sheet.
  • Coordinate care for the terrapin during temporary personal absences and emergencies, as well as holiday breaks and school closures, such as snow emergencies. Terrapins cannot go more than three days without appropriate care.
  • Agree to follow all program requirements to participate for up to three years. Teachers who complete a three-year term may apply again following a year off.

Application

Applications to participate in the Terrapins in the Classroom program for the 2024-25 school year will open in early March.

Frequently Asked Questions

Teachers of any subject working with third through twelfth grade students can participate in the Terrapins in the Classroom program.

Teachers from schools throughout Maryland, including public, private and charter schools, may apply. However, we cannot serve schools in Eastern Shore counties (Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne's, Caroline, Talbot, Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset, or Worcester) or Anne Arundel County public schools, since Maryland Environmental Service and Arlington Echo, respectively, offer similar terrapin programs in those areas. We are also unable to serve schools in Garrett or Allegany County, as neither the National Aquarium nor our TERP partner organizations are able to provide emergency veterinary support for schools at this distance.

The National Aquarium can only serve Maryland schools since our permits are provided through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The National Aquarium provides all tanks and supplies at the beginning of the school year for new teachers. Returning teachers are provided with pellet food and filter cartridge replacements. Throughout the year, you may be responsible for purchasing additional terrapin food and replacement filter cartridges in addition to replacing any broken supplies. Your expenses should total around $50-150 per year.

Teachers can attend an optional equipment training in late August to learn how to set up tanks. The teacher manual also provides instructions for tank setup. Your Terrapins in the Classroom coordinator will also be available to answer questions and provide assistance as needed.

In accordance with the permits from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the terrapin must be kept in a classroom that is not currently housing any other reptiles or amphibians. Other animals, such as types of fish, insects or mammals, may be in the classroom with the terrapin.

While every effort is made to involve as many students as possible in the spring terrapin release, we cannot guarantee each school a release trip. Schools participating in a release field trip must provide their own buses to the Eastern Shore and may bring no more than 10 students on their trip due to the capacity of the boat needed to reach Poplar Island. Schools that are unable to participate in the release will have their terrapin's release recorded or photographed by National Aquarium staff and shared with teachers.

All terrapins must be returned to Poplar Island at the conclusion of the annual program cycle each spring. Our permit through Maryland Department of Natural Resources mandates that the terrapins remain in classrooms only during the school year.

Teachers may elect to participate in the program for a maximum of three years. Teachers may carry their three-year term with them if they switch schools. At the end of each school year, teachers may opt out of the program for the following year. After participating for three consecutive years, teachers must take a year off before applying to join the program again.

Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice

The National Aquarium is dedicated to creating an environment that is inclusive, equitable and accessible to people from all backgrounds. We cannot successfully change the way humanity cares for our ocean planet without connecting with and appreciating the broad diversity of identities, backgrounds, experiences and perspectives that make our community unique.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter Sign up to receive updates on animals, news and events.