EdZoocation A Multi Faceted Approach to Teaching Animal Adaptations
Diane Cumming, Frances Stafford
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden Cincinnati, Ohio
EdZoocation was conceived to bring urban youth an understanding of the natural world, the importance of the web of life and the place of humans in this world. It began in 1992, with financial support from many sources, and involving all the elementary grades at a neighboring school. Today it targets the 3rd and 4th grades of 18 participating schools in Kentucky and Ohio. Toyota is now its sole corporate sponsor and insists on very high standards. It is a month long experience that requires the cooperation of zoo staff and volunteers with schoolteachers and administrators.
The goal of the program is to forge the link between habitat, adaptation and survival. It explores how human life and activity can impact a habitat and affect the life forms that depend on it. It provides a discussion of ways to reduce these harmful effects.
Participating schools are selected using 2 criteria:
· Urban location
· Low-income students more than 50% receive the lunch program.
These schools often lack funding for enrichment programs. Urban students can be alienated from the natural world and possibly fear it. In response, the program offers firsthand experience and tries to connect to their everyday lives. EdZoocation is a well-structured program that integrates skills from several school subject areas and builds throughout on prior learning.
The direct benefits to the school administrators is that EdZoocation fulfils the following state learning requirements:
- National Science Education Standards
- Benchmarks for Science Literacy
- Ohio Science Proficiencies
- Kentucky Core Content Program
- Components of the program
- Zoo Educator – The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens education department originated the program. Today the program is administered and developed by a zoo educator who also goes to the school for the initial outreach visit in the schoolroom.
- School teachers – Teachers are responsible for the day-to-day learning experience. They supervise the reading of 3 books. They teach 3 forms of poetry and lead the students in writing these poems on any subject that interests them. On the day of the zoo visit, teachers organize chaperones, accompany the students and supervise the free time component.
- Zoo docent- During the zoo visit, a docent leads one group on the tour of the 3 target habitats focusing on 2 animals in each. They supervise the observation of their group’s target animal.
- Industry- Toyota is the sole corporate sponsor and supplies funding for the dedicated zoo staff. Other expenses are also covered: supplies and books, and all the expenses of the zoo visit such as entrance fee, transport and lunch. At the end of the program, Toyota pays to publish the book of students’ work. Zoo
education staff conducts an evaluation of the program at the end of the year that is reviewed closely by
the sponsor. Toyota wants to improve educational opportunities of the future work force in their
neighborhood and they require a good program.
Time frame of the program:
EdZoocation requires a 4-week commitment from a participating school.
- On the first day the zoo educator makes a 90 minute initial outreach visit to the classroom.
- During weeks 1 through 3, the schoolteachers take 1 week to cover each book and to teach 1 of the forms of poetry so that all 3 books and poems are covered.
- The daylong zoo visit is scheduled at the beginning of the 4th week.
- During the final week, the teachers lead classes to write poems about the animals and their adaptations. The students produce artwork to illustrate the poems. The observation and work sheets from the zoo visit provide input to this work.
Outreach A 90-minute visit to the classroom by the zoo educator.
The program targets 3 North American habitats
- Arctic habitat.
- Eastern woodland.
- Florida wetland.
The educator brings some props for this meeting. There are 6 boxes containing materials to illustrate the 3 habitats. There are 2 boxes for each habitat and may not have identical contents. Materials in artic boxes include: – an ice cube tray, a snowflake decoration, a snowy owl feather, a polar bear claw, a snowshoe, and a picture of a native Inuit person, an igloo, an icicle, Polar bear hair, swatches from a summer and a winter phase hare, and a puffin toy. In the Eastern woodland boxes are a small log, branch or piece of bark, leaf litter, an acorn, a squirrel skull, porcupine quills, a small white flag, a cardinal toy, a jar of soil, a raccoon fore paw track, shed snake skin, an owl pellet, a swatch of mink fur, and maple syrup. To describe the Florida wetlands, the boxes hold, an oar, a jar of water, a duck’s webbed foot, a tree frog toy, some crocodile skin, a manatee toy, cattails, a fishing lure, an alligator tooth, and a picture of stilts.
In an introduction the zoo educator tells the students that they are taking part in a zoo program that will teach them about how animals live. It begins with this meeting and will include books to be read, a daylong visit to the zoo and it will finish with poetry and drawing assignments.
The educator then leads a discussion about the basic needs of all living things. She uses a flip chart and lists the students’ input and guides the conclusion to the 4 major requirements of water, food, shelter and space.
The next part is the habitat boxes. It begins with a discussion on how different creatures need different food and shelter and shows that these needs are met by different habitats. Everybody brainstorms a list of habitats.
The class is then divided into 6 groups and each one is given a habitat box. The students have about 10 minutes to explore the contents of the boxes. At this time the students do not know the target habitats. Then they are encouraged to guess which habitat their box represents. The group is given an envelope containing the name of the habitat and pictures of animals found in it. Each group of students explains their findings to the rest of the class. Using the pictured animals, the educator can then make the connection between the animal’s visible adaptations and the demands of its habitat.
The most exciting part for the students comes next when the zoo educator introduces 2 live animal visitors to the class. The animals come from either the wetlands or the woodlands. The striped skunk, the black rat snake or the eastern screech owl are used to illustrate the eastern woodland habitat. The Florida king snake, the cattle egret or the American alligator represent animals of the Florida wetlands. This part includes a review of adaptations. The same questions are used to explore the adaptations of each animal: – where does it live, what does it eat, what adaptations help it to find and eat its food, and what other adaptations help it to survive? The students are encouraged to touch the animals. This provides a hands on experience that is central to EdZoocation.
At the end of the visit, the educator hands out adaptation worksheets and leads the class in filling them out. These reinforce the basic requirements of water, food, shelter and space. They underline the fact that habitats are very varied and that the animals that live in them have adapted to the conditions there. Before she leaves, the educator suggests that the students become detectives as they read the books and as they go about their everyday lives. They should observe wildlife they see around them and even family pets to see how they are adapted to survive in the neighborhood.
The school classroom
The teacher is the second partner in the EdZoocation program. She leads the reading and poetry sections. The schools are loaned thirty copies each of the books Manatee Winter, The Polar Bear and Animal Lives: The Otter. The students in each school then have the opportunity to read at least one of the books and usually all three. The teachers are also supplied with worksheets and background material on the animals. The worksheets include a vocabulary list and a reading comprehension activity sheet for each book.
Teachers also conduct the poetry and art component of EdZoocation. During week one they teach either couplet or haiku poems. Week two brings name poems and week three cinquain poems. Activity pages and examples of these poems are provided with the program. After the zoo visit each student writes and illustrates an adaptation poem about an animal studied on the zoo tour. A book is published at the end of the program representing the best works from that school.
The Zoo visit
The zoo docent is the third partner in the EdZoocation program. On zoo day the students receive a guided tour, a box lunch and free time to explore the zoo. The docents lead a scripted tour emphasizing habitats and adaptation. Each docent is supplied with a biofact bag containing transition items, biofacts and laminated environmental problems. Chaperones on the tour are enlisted to carry a waterproof bag with ten clipboards, pencils, and activity sheets. The tour visits 3 habitats featuring 6 animals:
- Arctic habitat with the polar bear and the horned puffin
- Eastern woodland habitat with the otter and grey fox
- Florida wetlands with the manatee and the softshell turtle
The zoo tour contains an introduction, three transitions (one for each habitat), and a discussion with scripted questions for each animal, a suggested activity for each stop, problem solving for the manatee, otter and polar bear, and a final worksheet.
The students are divided into group of ten and each group of children is identified by the name of one of the animals. For the purpose of this presentation we will be members of the softshell turtle group. The introduction includes a review of habitats and a description of the tour. As the softshell group our first stop would be the eastern woodlands. The transition item to the eastern woodlands is a webbed glove (representing the webbed otter feet). The first stop is the river otter. Questions to ask that lead the discussion are:
- Where does the river otter live?
- What do you think the river otter eats?
- What adaptations does the river otter have to help it find and catch food?
An activity at the otters is the showing the otter skull. The teeth for tearing and grinding are discussed and the frontal position of the eye sockets is noted. The next stop is the grey fox. Questions for a discussion of each animal are basically the same. An activity selected at the grey fox is the demonstration of fox ears. This is how to conduct this activity. Have the students stand quietly listening and speak a sentence softly to them. Now have them cup their hands behind their ears without covering them up. Speak the sentence softly again. They should hear better than before. Now ask the students to cup their hands in front of their ears. Have the chaperone behind the group say the sentence softly. Now you repeat the sentence. The students can now hear sounds behind them more clearly than those in front. Finally, students cup one ear to the front, the other to the rear and now should hear well in both directions. This is how a fox moves his ears to focus and improve his hearing. The environmental problem given to the students at the eastern woodland is: Scientists have noticed that fewer Otters are found in rivers and streams where large numbers of fish are found floating at the surface. What might be happening? Questions from the docent lead to conclusions about the use of pesticides in our environment that leach into the water and undergo biological multiplication in the food chain. Possible solutions might be developing safer pesticides.
Leaving the eastern woodlands our next habitat is the arctic. The transition item to the arctic with the polar bear and horned puffin is a single clear straw and a bundle of clear straws (representing the polar bear’s clear, hollow, hair looking white when bundled together and viewed from the side). The first stop is the polar bear. The activity here is the comparison of a dark surface versus light surface at absorbing heat, showing the adaptation of black skin on the polar bear. The standard questions on habitat, food and adaptations are then asked. The next stop is the horned puffin. The activity is to flap your wings as fast as possible to see if you can flap them 400 times a minute like the horned puffin. The environmental question associated with the arctic is: Scientists have noticed that many polar bears are losing weight because they aren’t getting enough to eat. What might be happening?
Here, questions from the docent lead to the effects of the early melting of the winter sea ice on seal hunting by the bears. Many scientists believe that unusual warming in the arctic is due to the gases produced from energy use in our homes, factories and cars. The docent leads brainstorming ideas for responsible energy use.
The final stop is the Florida wetlands. The transition item is the snorkel, which represents the softshell turtle’s elongated beak or snout. This adaptation allows the animal to keep his body buried in the sand for camouflage and to extend only his snout to breathe. The focus animals are the manatee and the softshell turtle. The questions linking habitat and adaptations are the same. The activity at the manatee is a gray arm glove the children can try on to experience a flipper feeling. This is a good time to explain that the manatee has the same bone structure within its flipper as we have in our arm. The problem to solve: Wildlife biologists have noticed that as the number of registered boats in Florida has increased. Manatee populations have sharply declined.
What’s happening? Docent questions help reveal that manatees swim slowly compared to the speed of boats and that when there is a collision manatees are injured or killed. The group is lead to a possible remedy. For people to continue to enjoy Florida and for the manatees to be safe, we need laws to restrict boat access in manatee gathering places. In other areas, speed limits need to be enforced just as a car’s speed is limited to protect children where they cross the road near a school. Finally the group comes to their focus animal, in this case the softshell turtle.
For 20 minutes, the students work on an activity sheet. While watching the turtle they relate its adaptations to its success in its environment. They brainstorm descriptive words that will be used back in the classroom to help them write the final poem. On these sheets the students are also encouraged to draw a picture of the softshell turtle and its habitat that they see in front of them.
The students are proud of the published book they receive that is a memento of their efforts. As for the docents, we hope that we have helped them to make the connection with nature that leads to appreciation and love. We hope, that with this love, they will grow up to protect our wonderful living planet.