Programs To Make Your Community CARE!
Leonard VonBenken, Barbara VonBenken, and Sharon Mulligan
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
In keeping with the theme of this year’s conference – CARE! It’s Our Nature we would like to share with you three of the programs that Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (“CMZ”) offers to our community.
We are a tax supported Zoo, and as such we try to offer opportunities for our community to access us without having to pay for the visit. Among other things, CMZ allocates approximately $50,000 per year to pay for buses to transport classes and groups to the Zoo for programs. Two days every year, CMZ reserves a telephone line for the express purpose of booking buses on a first call, first served basis. On any given day, both of our buses may make at least two pickups (am and pm) to bring groups to the Zoo.
In order to enhance the educational benefits of their visit, we require teachers who register their classes for some of the programs that we offer (i.e. Preschool and Australian Outreach, Fur, Feathers and Scales, Habitats and The RainForest Connection) to attend workshops that will familiarize them with the necessary curricula and provide an outline of what to expect on the day of their program. We offer the workshops annually, but ask the teachers to attend only once. Of course, they are welcome to attend again as a refresher.
The programs that we are going to discuss today are two overnight programs, Distance Learning, and The RainForest Connection.
CMZ offers overnight programs throughout the year. These programs are fee-based and support not only the 15 part-time zoo staff positions involved in the programs, but other Zoo educational programs as well. Both education department staff and volunteers supervise the programs.
During the summer months, CMZ offers an overnight African adventure in a safari camp on CMZ grounds. The emphasis of this program is African animals and how they live both in the wild and in zoos. Campers participate in a night hike and have the opportunity to use night vision binoculars. Campfire tales are based on animal-related African folktales. Participants also make animal enrichment items, and observe as these items are given to the animals. This program, targeted for ages six to adult, is offered up to four nights per week, for a total of 30 or more sessions per summer. Each session includes up to 20 participants who may be children only, families, or parent/child groups. This program has been in place since 1991. In the past six years, this program has been held 212 times and has reached over 3000 people.
During the remaining months of the year, NightTracks is offered. This overnight program, offered two nights per week, is also geared to ages six to adult and emphasizes Minnesota gray wolves. In this program, participants become wildlife researchers for a night. They learn to use radio telemetry equipment by tracking each other around the Zoo to demonstrate how field researchers track wolves. They also learn the use of compasses and maps, and are given the opportunity to access up-to-the-minute internet tracking data on wolves in Minnesota. Stories are told reflecting the differing attitudes of Native Americans and modern society about the natural world. The NightTracks program has been in place since 1996 (a few months before CMZ’s Wolf Wilderness exhibit opened), and over 8000 people have participated since its inception.
Through a series of games and activities, CMZ’s goal in NightTracks is to educate the participants about three primary aspects of the wolf’s place in nature.
1) The how and why of wolf decline; endangered and threatened status is discussed and Native American views are compared with, and contrasted against, the views of European explorers, trappers and settlers.
2) What is being done to bring wolves back from threatened/endangered status? What can each of us do to help ? Discussion includes tracking and reintroduction, the wolf’s place as predator of large mammals (but not man), wolf communication (sounds, scents and body posturing) and habitat preservation.
3) Why are wolves important ? What role do they play ? Why should we bother saving them ? Discussion here includes the wolf’s place in the food chain as well as its role in controlling prey populations, the importance of preserving every species and man’s stewardship of nature.
For its wolf education programs, including NightTracks, CMZ won the 1998 AZA Significant Achievement in Education Award.
Distance Learning – Bringing The Zoo To You
In 1996, the Columbus and Cincinnati Zoos and CMZ joined forces to look into distance learning programs as another form of outreach programming that would allow them the opportunity to spread their message to students all over the world. Believing that they could learn from each other, the three zoos, together with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the Ohio Historical Society, and The Wilds, created the Ohio Conservation Educators Consortium in 1997 when they received funding from Ohio SchoolNet to create a comprehensive distance learning curriculum.
Distance learning began in high schools around the country to allow groups of schools to offer a wider selection of advanced courses to their students. Since then, the “talking head” of the early days has evolved into interactive videoconferencing which has changed the way teachers teach and students learn. Through videoconferencing, students from several schools are able to interact with each other as well as one or more educators, allowing the kind of give and take discussion that is necessary to the best learning environment.
CMZ’s most ambitious distance learning program to date has been the Ohio Wetlands – Ruin, Reintroduction and Recovery program. Ohio Wetlands is a problem-based learning (“PBL”) high school level program designed to match state proficiency and national science standards. As stated by the Center for PBL in 1995, PBL “simultaneously develops both problem solving strategies and disciplinary knowledge bases and skills by placing students in the active role of problem solvers.” The problem presented to the participating students is to determine the answer to one question – can the reintroduction of a wetland dependent animal, such as the trumpeter swan, increase the level of conservation both for the habitat and the species? The Ohio Wetlands curriculum is taught jointly by high school teachers and CMZ (staff) educators.
At the classroom level, the program suggests, and the lesson plans encourage, that the following steps be taken in each lesson: present the problem statement; list what is known about the problem; revise the problem statement based on what is known; list what is needed to solve the problem; list possible actions, recommendations, solutions or hypotheses; and present and support the solution. Each lesson can take as long as the teacher determines to be appropriate, and no teacher is expected to cover all of the lessons provided.
Because of the PBL nature of the program, it is strongly suggested to the teachers that each lesson include ample time for thinking, learning, and the sharing of ideas among the student participants.
The videoconferencing aspect of the program, which includes interaction among the students, the teachers, and the CMZ educators, is presented in a series of six sessions over twelve weeks as follows: Introduction to Wetlands; Wetlands History; Egg Collection and Incubation/Hatching; Two Years in Training (managing the young swans prior to release); Release and Tracking; and Wetlands Conservation Wrap-Up.
In addition to lesson plans and videoconferences, Ohio Wetlands participants are given reading lists and loaned resource kits which include books, CD-ROMs, videos and slides, maps, reprints, and “fun stuff” which includes such things as moose scat, a soil tube, various soil samples, and chest waders. Some of the “fun stuff” even comes with instructions.
The problem solving and environmental and conservation education elements of the Ohio Wetlands program are obvious; however, depending on the decisions made by the individual teachers, the program also includes experience in the following areas:
- Writing – through written reports in expression, communication, grammar, correct word choice, etc.
- Reading – increased understanding of language, concepts, cause and effect, etc.
- Math – using and reading measurement devices, calculating and computing with units of measure, solving equations, etc.
- Citizenship – understanding ethnic and cultural backgrounds, map reading skills, making informed decisions, etc.
- Science – observation vs. inference, understanding the concepts of time and season as they relate to the earth’s rotation, safety precautions, etc.
The Ohio Wetlands program garnered a Significant Achievement in Education Award from the AZA and two Interpretive Media Awards from the National Association of Interpreters, one for the curriculum and the other for the accompanying website.
During the three years Ohio Wetlands has been offered, over 600 students have been reached through this program. CMZ currently offers over 30 additional distance learning programs. With no advertising out-of-state, our programs have been presented to students in California, New Jersey, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Minnesota. The groundwork is now being laid for a program with Uganda which will also involve a teacher exchange. CMZ is looking forward to this cooperative effort in expanding its outreach internationally.
The Rainforest Connection
Our RainForest exhibit opened in the fall of 1992. At that time a program designed in cooperation with teachers from the Cleveland Public Schools, Hathaway Brown School and Baldwin Wallace College was initiated. The program’s goal was to provide sixth grade students with an interactive learning session that would include some unique, hands-on oriented activities that would otherwise be unavailable in a typical classroom setting. In 1994, the program won the AZA Excellence in Education award. Over the years, some alterations have been made, especially as school curricula have changed. The basic program continues, but is now offered to fourth or sixth grade classes depending upon the curriculum of the students’ school system.
The class is two (2) hours long and is divided into 5 major segments. Prior to their arrival, the classroom teacher(s) will have picked up a resource box, which has a number of lesson plans and activities for the teacher and students to do in preparation for the class. The box is returned on the day of the class.
The first segment begins with a discussion of rain forest structure and the nature of biodiversity. Through the use of props, the students can see and discuss the layers of the rain forest and place a variety of animals on their proper levels. A discussion of biodiversity follows. Using a special set of laminated tapes the class can visualize the difference in numbers of species between the rain forest and northeastern Ohio.
In the second segment, we discuss the nature of soil in a rain forest and compare it to the soil of Ohio. The students construct a soil profile, which allows them to visualize the differences between the two types. Additionally, they are given a sample of real soil and asked to examine it physically, describing its appearance, texture, contents, etc. The discussion surrounding these activities concentrates on the growing properties of each kind of soil.
Segment three involves plant and animal adaptations for survival in a rain forest. First, the students examine a group of tropical plants. They handle the leaves, noting color, texture, stems, vines, etc. Discussion then follows on how the plants have adapted in different ways to enable them to flourish. To learn about animal adaptations, the children move in front of a pair of fish tanks, one of which contains an electric eel, and the other, mormyrids. Discussion begins with a description of the habitat of both tanks. Both fish live in murky, dark water. Both have poor vision. By watching the behavior of the fish in the two tanks, the children discover that the eel has to come to the surface to gulp air in order to breathe. Then, using microphones and a special light display, the instructor is able to show the differences in electrical fields generated by the eel vs. the mormyrids.
The eel is able to generate a strong electrical field which changes in intensity when the eel stuns/kills its prey, allowing it to eat. The fish, on the other hand, have a weak electrical field, which does not change in intensity, but permits them to maneuver and find their prey.
The fourth segment involves leaving the classroom and going out into the rain forest exhibit area. A general discussion of scientific research and exploration is followed by information about the types of equipment used by scientists. The class is then introduced to the use of radio telemetry equipment. The group is split up into smaller groups, a frequency is chosen and the small groups track the frequency to an exhibit. When they arrive, their instructor helps them identify the animal and leads a discussion of the animal, its behavior and habitat.
This information is recorded by each child on an observation record. The group will then go on to another exhibit and repeat the process.
When the children return to the classroom for the fifth and final session, their observation records will be collected and returned to the teacher for follow up use in their home classroom. The class will then spend this final portion of their visit learning how rain forest ecology and loss impacts their lives at home in Cleveland.
Through the use of a video (Rain Forest Rap WWF), pictures, samples of products and a discussion of ways in which the environment can be saved, the class learns how they and their families can have an impact as far away as the tropics.
Finally, the children are given a small rosy periwinkle plant and some seeds to take back with them as a visual reminder of the day and the ideas and concepts they learned.
These are only a few of the ways in which the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo fulfills its mission “To Improve The Future For Wildlife ” around the corner, and around the world.