Zoo Animals Invade Social Studies Class
Nancy Heckel and Connie Smiley
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
The trend in education today is integration of subjects. We, as zoo educators, need to take a look at creative ways to help teachers achieve this goal. Of course, zoos lend themselves very easily to science instruction, especially the biological sciences. Integrating other subjects, like math, social studies, reading, and language arts is more difficult. Many of the programs that we offer, such as Adaptations, Classification, Predator/Prey, Partnerships, Food Webs, etc., relate to the science field.
All the animals come from somewhere on earth, often far away. This can make a very great geography lesson. Tours and other programs can center on a geographic place, either by continent, area of the United States, or by geographic features such as deserts or rain forests. Of course, reading comes into play as the teacher or children read the signs around the zoo and plot the locations of countries or areas on maps when they get back to school.
Some of our programs are designed specifically to meet Social Studies goals. We offer Ohio History programs specifically for the 4th grade, and Rainforest and East African Safari programs designed for the 6th grade. Economics is a topic that teachers find difficult to teach; yet is mandated in Ohio for grades Kindergarten through High School. We have designed a program that teaches basic economic concepts (scarcity, opportunity costs, etc.) using the zoo as an example. By answering the basic questions of a. How does the zoo get money? b. How does the zoo have to spend its money? the students start their learning. The program also incorporates as much math as the teachers are willing to
integrate. We provide data on how much it costs per year to feed an animal on a basic core list of animals, and also how much various foods cost per week and per year. The teachers are encouraged to then construct math problems for the children using that data. Our hope is that this study leads to further learning by doing. Some schools have had their students start a “company,” deal with factors of production, sell their product, hopefully make money, and choose to ADOPT their favorite zoo animal.
We start the program by defining the term “economics.” The children should be able to tell us what they think of when they hear that term. Then we spend time exploring with them what they do with their allowances. Some save for long-term goals (college or a car). Some save for short-term goals (a new video game, etc.). We discuss with them the differences and why they can’t buy what they want whenever they want. That is a good way to illustrate the concept of scarcity. Some of the children spend their money as fast as they get it. We have the children give examples of what they would buy with their money. There can be other examples of scarcity. This also illustrates the concept of “Opportunity Costs.”
You can’t spend the same dollar on two things that each cost a dollar. The thing you have to give up in order to get the thing you really want is the Opportunity Cost. We then discuss the scarcity situations at the zoo. We are a city zoo that is surrounded by streets, stores, hospitals, and houses. We cannot grow any bigger. Therefore, we have a scarcity of space. We always have to make decisions about how to use that space. Should we have another animal exhibit, plant exhibit, snack bar or restroom? Another scarcity is just like in your home. We have unlimited wants but limited resources. There is never enough money to go around. Therefore, we have to continually make choices as to how we will spend the available money.
Several years ago, a committee toured the zoo to make a list of improvements that were needed in order to remain a world-class zoo. One of the things on the list was a new birdhouse. The house that exhibited the birds was not built for birds. It was built for reptiles. You could see the birds quite well, but it was not a very exciting exhibit. Another exhibit that needed work was the Elephant House. The existing house, while on the historic register, was one of the last barred exhibits. The space for the elephants was also very limited. We were told that we could either enlarge the exhibit or only keep one elephant. There was enough money for only one exhibit and we got the new birdhouse. Our Opportunity Cost was the elephant exhibit. As time went on, we got enough money for another improvement. The elephant display
was moved to the top of the list, but unfortunately the space scarcity intervened. We would have to give up a goodly amount of parking places in order to expand the elephant exhibit. Because of space scarcity, this was not an option. One solution to the problem was a parking garage, which would allow for more cars to be parked in a smaller space. Parking garages are prohibitively expensive. There was no money for this project. The money that was given for the elephant exhibit could not be used. We went to the taxpayers for an increase in property taxes. The voters voted it down. Eventually we were able to acquire property across a major street for parking and could expand the elephant exhibit.
Where do we get money to operate the zoo? The children are encouraged to answer based on their past experiences. Many of them have been at the zoo before and can think of ways that the zoo obtains money. Among the things that they could suggest are:
a. Tax levy–a small part of our budget is obtained by a property tax levy.
b. Admissions–revenue from admissions are a major part of our daily budget.
c. Memberships–a real bargain for the public as members can come to the zoo any day of the year free, and the zoo can count on the revenue.
d. Concessions–the food services are not owned by the zoo, but rather we own the buildings and Marriott restaurants pay us to run their business at the zoo. We also have train and tram rides that are considered concessions as well. An amusement company pays to operate their train and tram at the zoo.
e. Gifts, grants, and business donations–both individuals and corporations give us money. Some of the donations are given with conditions attached. Businesses like to have their names attached to the display, building, or program.
f. Investment income–when people give money for a future project, that money is invested and accumulates interest.
g. Gift shop–our gift shop is a good source of income because volunteers run it. Therefore, all the income becomes profit for the zoo.
h. Animal adoption–ADOPT (Animals Depend On People Too) allows people to provide for the food eaten by their adopted animal for one year.
i. Parking–due to the scarcity of space, parking space is at a premium. The scarcer something is the more can be charged for it. People are certainly welcome to park on the street for free.
j. Sale of animals–we have a very prolific zoo and our animals often provide us with offspring that we can sell (but only to other zoos).
k. Special events–provide us with the opportunity to have people come to the zoo who may not come otherwise. We have such special events as Festival of Lights, Easter Egg Hunt, Halloween Happenings, Zoofari, Zoo Golf, and Cheetah Run.
What do we have to spend money on? The children are encouraged to answer this question based on their past experiences. Among the answers they may give are:
a. Food for the animals–this is a big part of our budget. The animals get the finest, freshest food available.
b. Salaries–the employees have to be paid. We are lucky to have so many volunteers. Salaries are not as big a part of our budget as most zoos and the thanks go to the volunteers. They saved the zoo $1,000,000 last year.
c. Advertisements–while advertisements are expensive, it does increase the admissions.
d. Maintenance–this is the largest part of our budget. Buildings and displays always need painting, light bulb replacement, cleaning, etc. Walkways need repairing, carpets need cleaning, and odds and ends need repairs.
e. Utilities–just like at home, we have to pay our electric, gas, water, and telephone bills.
f. Buying animals–sometimes we need to replace an animal that has died or want to add a new exhibit and have to buy animals. Sometimes we are able to trade animals with other zoos.
g. Vet/hospital care–when animals get sick or injured they need to be treated. A local hospital is not an option. We need to have a hospital on grounds with all the expensive equipment needed to X-ray or operate.
h. New exhibits–this also includes the demolition of the old exhibits.
i. Education–including classes, posters, written material, etc.
j. Plantings–since we are also a Botanical Garden, our plantings are very important.
k. Office supplies–we need to buy things like paper, computers, tape, pencils, etc.
l. Animal supplies–we try to make the animal exhibits as homelike as possible, with things for the animals to do. We need to buy toys, water bottles, etc.
After this discussion we discuss the ADOPT program, and how you can adopt an animal. We ask the children which animal is the most expensive to feed. Everyone guesses the elephant, which costs $5000 a year to feed. Our most expensive animal is the walrus, which costs $7500. Not only does the walrus eat a lot of food, but it eats very expensive food like squid. The children can adopt any animal that they want to. Some have adopted the particular animal that we brought to their classroom. There are even special animals that are featured every year for classes to adopt. If the class adopts one of these animals they get pictures of their animal (one per student, up to 30 children).