Wee Care Too
Kimberly Kalkstein, Victoria Schuckmann
The Louisville Zoo was opened in 1969 and currently houses over 1500 specimens utilizing about 80 of over 150acres. The Zoo’s mission is “to better the bond between people and the planet.” The Docent program was started in 1979 and we currently have 145 docents. As Louisville Zoo Docents, we are required to complete 48 hours of service each year. Our activities include: giving tours of our Zoo, doing interpretations on Zoo grounds, providing outreach to area hospitals, nursing home, schools, day cares, and business, and probably the most important job, presenting classes to children.
The educators at the Louisville Zoo develop the curriculum for all our classes to coordinate with the goals of the Kentucky Education Reform Act and promote the inquiry method of teaching and learning. According to the National Science Foundation, inquiry is an approach to learning that involves exploring the natural world, which leads to asking questions, making discoveries and testing those discoveries. The word inquiry comes from the Latin words in or inward and quirer to question. Therefore, inquiry is not just asking questions but questioning into something. Learning through inquiry provides our students with the opportunity to make decisions firsthand, for themselves. Young children ignore very little, are very curious and ask questions constantly. Children of all ages can observe, investigate, collect data, think, reason, and draw conclusions.
Students need opportunities to explore, question and discover, not just cover the material for class. Effective hands-on inquiry involves the cycle of learning — do, talk, reflect, write and a series of steps that builds students’ investigative skills.
Questioning -being able to ask about what they know and don’t know;
Observing– watching carefully;
Organizing data– gathering information and putting it in logical order;
Explaining -clarifying what they believe to be true or not true;
Reflecting – taking time to synthesize, draw conclusions, look for patterns;
Taking action -making a hypothesis and informing others about their decisions in a variety of ways: oral, written, representational.
These are often called the process skills. Simply put, by focusing on the five W’s of whom, what, when, where, and why and adding the how, we can encourage our students to form their own personal learning.
If all living things on this earth are to survive, we must pass on to the children the care that we feel and help to strengthen the bond. We do this by educating the children with information about plants and animals and ways to help in conservation. We believe that one will not save, what one does not know. Keeping children involved and promoting inquiry during classes helps to insure that we keep them interested so they retain the information we are presenting. We do this in a variety of ways. Lectures must include lots of hands-on materials and questions. We are fortunate to have hundreds of biofacts that children may see, feel, smell, hear and sometimes- even taste. These include pictures, pelts, bones, feathers, seeds, nuts, plants, and even live animals. Our students should be encouraged to “interrupt” us with questions. A good way to encourage children to ask questions is to reward those who do so. This may be done with a hand stamp or a small sticker. And we should ask questions as teacher, at least every 5 minutes during a class. Good questions relate to the students’ experiences so they are more likely to answer them. We can make answering questions fun by allowing movement when answering. For example, a yes or no question of the entire class can be answered with a show of thumbs- up for yes and down for no. Questions should always be able to be answered, even if it is with “I don’t know but I will find out for you.”
Another way to keep children involved is by having some sort of pencil and paper fun activity, such as, seek and finds or questions to answer or definitions to match or keeping a journal. And don’t forget the teacher. Giving the teacher a follow-up activity to take back to school allows him or her to give the students a chance to use the information just learned and reinforce what was taught in the zoo class.
One of the best ways to keep children involved is by hands-on activities. We have a variety of these ready for our classes. These include games to play outside or inside, mini-tours of our Zoo and small group and individual activities. Our Curator of Education has designed some new activities we call “lunch boxes” and we have been putting these together on many different topics. These lunch box activities are designed to reinforce the class information with a question. The activity may be completed independently or with a group. The lunch boxes contain pictures of animals and a question. The students answer the question by sorting the pictures. These questions may be: which animals are carnivores; which animals live in the rainforest; which animals are endangered; or which animals are nocturnal. Inquiry comes into play as the students discuss where to place or how to categorize each picture and explain their reasoning. We also use film canisters in a variety of ways. For example, the film canisters may contain cotton balls soaked with various smells. Some will match. We use these in an activity that calls for students to become mother and baby animals. The “babies” must locate their “mothers” by smell only. This activity gets a class up and moving around and they can simulate what a baby animal must do. The discussion follows to allow students to explain their experience. A variation is to use some type of noise making materials in the canister and the students must locate each other by similar sounds, as some animals do in the wild.
If we give children the opportunity to cultivate their own skills and construct their own ideas and concepts, they can begin to develop an understanding of the world that is deep and real. They can also begin to enjoy, understand, predict and generate new knowledge on their own.
Jane Goodall once talked about an experience of watching a family of chimps for several days. She remarked, “I see nothing.” She explained what she meant was “I am not here to see what I know; I am here to see what I don’t know.” Let’s help our students find out what they don’t know and then help them search for the answers.
Foundations Volume 2: A Monograph for Professional in Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education. Inquiry: Thoughts, View, and Strategies for the K-5 Classroom. Division of Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education. Arlington, VA
National Science Education Standards. National Research Council. National Academy Press