Group Programs

Group learning about SERC forest Ecology from volunteer

SERC offers programs for organized groups of all ages and interests. Topics range from hands-on activities related to SERC science to general talks about the research conducted at SERC. You can also explore some of our 2,600 acres of land and water, with a guide, to visit research sites and learn about Smithsonian science in the field. 

To book a program, contact Karen McDonald.

Download the Group Programs Brochure.

Program Activity Details:

In this activity we feature SERC science and research related to oysters, blue crabs, orchids, invasive species, climate change and more.  This talk can be modified for all ages, from children to adults. Younger students will have an opportunity to try on field gear and use research tools.


  • Age: All
  • Associated SERC Lab: Multiple
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Group size: Up to 40
  • Cost: $18/participant ($200 minimum)

Introduction to Blue Crab Anatomy, Hydraulics and Pneumatics: In this activity we'll study the anatomy of blue crabs, learn how blue crabs use hydraulics to move after molting and how this relates to pneumatics (movement via air compression).

Build a Blue Crab Hydraulic Arm: In this activity we'll introduce to the field of biomimicry and challenge you to engineer a functional blue crab arm that moves objects. To do this you'll create engineering-inspired schematics to design and build a blue crab arm using simple materials.


  • Age: 12+
  • Associated SERC Lab: Fish and Invertebrate Lab
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Group size: Up to 25
  • Cost: $18/participant ($375 minimum)

In Shoreline Connections (formerly Estuary Chesapeake) you will need to choose one activity or up to four activities (depending on group's available time) which include: 

Plankton: Take plankton samples using different sampling techniques and learn how and why SERC researchers study plankton. Participants will try their hand at identifying plankton through microscopes. If time permits, participants will work together to design a plankton outfitted with adaptations related to vertical water column movement and test their designs in our plankton competition.
Associated lab: Phytoplankton Ecology Lab.

Oysters: Sort though oyster baskets and learn about oysters, how they filter water and the variety of organisms that call an oyster reef home. We’ll take dissolved oxygen (DOI) measurements of the Rhode River, learn why dissolved oxygen is important to the survival of aquatic organisms and discuss SERC DO research.
Associated lab: Marine and Estuarine Ecology Lab.

Seining: Explore three different nearshore habitats and learn how these habitats affect the presence and abundance of fish and invertebrates in the Bay. We'll don waders and use a large seine net to survey the nearshore fish and invertebrate populations in this fun hands-on learning activity.
Associated Lab: Fish and Invertebrate Lab.

Water Testing: Discover how a watershed works using our 3-D landscape model, how precipitation moves through a watershed to the Bay and the importance of water quality. We'll test water samples from the Rhode River for salinity, pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen and nitrates. With the use of a microscope, we'll discover what happens to blue crab shells when water becomes supersaturated with carbon dioxide from climate change, causing a change in water chemistry.
Associated Lab: Nutrient Lab.


  • Age: 9+
  • Associated SERC Lab: Plankton Lab
  • Time: Varies (1 program = 1 hour and 4 programs = 3 hours)
  • Group size: Up to 20/activity, max group size 60 for multiple stations
  • Cost: 1-2 activities is $18/participant ($200 minimum) and 3-4 activities is $22/participant ($375 minimum)

In this activity you'll be joined by a SERC guide for an exciting 1.5 mile round trip hike to Hog Island. On this hike we'll walk along scenic shorelines, get a bird's eye view of a marsh ecosystem from our marsh boardwalks and explore the secret life within our wooded trails. Along the way we'll look for local wildlife, discuss SERC research and visit the fish and invertebrate research station.


  • Age: 8+
  • Associated SERC Lab: Multiple
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Group size: Up to 20
  • Cost: $18/participant ($200 minimum)

In this activity we'll explore Muddy Creek and the Rhode River with one of our SERC guides. Along the way we'll look for local wildlife and discuss SERC research. Basic paddling instruction, life jackets and canoe guides are included. 


  • Age: 6+
  • Associated SERC Lab: Multiple
  • Time: 2.5 hours
  • Group size: Up to 22
  • Cost: Adults $25 & 12 and under $20 ($200 minimum)

In Exploring Nature you'll need to choose one activity or up to four activities (depending on group's available time) which include: 

Seining: Collect fish and invertebrates using a seine net, sort and count them based on their adaptations for moving and discuss various aspects of their life history and evolution. 

Blue Crabs: Learn about blue crab anatomy by drawing a blue crab based on a live specimen. During anatomy discussions, learn about adaptations that make blue crabs well suited for living in aquatic environments like the Chesapeake Bay.  

Understanding Oysters: Sort through baskets of oyster shells for fish and invertebrates that colonize oyster reefs. Students sort and count creatures and then try to explain what they found. 

Tools for Trees: Learn tree anatomy and use common forestry tools like DBH tape and calipers to measure trees and leaves. If time permits, participants will create their own tree and leaf key using crayon rubbings.  

Caterpillar Camouflage: Learn about food webs and camouflage. During this activity, we'll discuss how camouflage can help caterpillars hide from predators by participating in a fun race to collect and count colored pasta (pretend caterpillars) and which colors were easiest to find in the grass.


  • Age: 5-8
  • Associated SERC Lab: Fish and Invertebrate Lab
  • Time: Varies (1 program = 1 hour and 4 programs = 3 hours)
  • Group size: Up to 20/activity, max group size 60 for multiple stations
  • Cost: 1-2 activities is $18/participant ($200 minimum) and 3-4 activities is $22/participant ($375 minimum)