Wednesday, May 1, 2013

School Field Trip - Students Sizzle at the Zoo


School field trips can provide such memorable learning experiences for students. I had the good fortune of chaperoning my son and his 7th grade classmates on a trip to Brookfield Zoo. The day was chilly, but the animals cooperated by providing us with much to record and discuss. The activities of the trip were to be tied primarily to Science learning objectives. The organization of the day was outstanding, and the students were cooperative and enthusiastic.




In the days leading up to the field trip to the zoo, students were asked to gather basic information about categories of animal species. The purpose of the zoo trip was for students to record observations about selected animals. This information would be used to help design favorable exhibits for their selected animals.

On the day of the trip, we had 30 minutes before boarding the bus. Students worked on worksheets in preparation for their observations. During the hour long bus ride I made a mental note that every one of the students (50) I observed had some form of mobile technology. I, in fact, had my iPad and my mi-fi card. My son, Trevor, had his cell phone and his iPod. His teammates were packing iPhones and iPods. Following our entrance to the zoo, I provided my student group (5) with another packet of worksheets to record observations, and a zoo map to plan our journey.

Our team of boys was eager to take in as much of the zoo as time would allow. However, they switched up the research plans and all selected the same animal (Black Rhinoceros), to study. I suggested a variety of experiences would be better, but I was out numbered. The Black Rhino did not disappoint - giving us plenty to record. I distributed the worksheets, the boys broke out their pencils, and they completed their notes and drawings in about five minutes. This seemed like a basic level learning experience with the potential to become something more engaging and meaningful to the students.

Here's where things get interesting. After gathering up the notes on the Black Rhino, we ventured over to the Tropical World. Within thirty seconds, the boys had their phones and iPods out - taking pictures, shooting video, and recording voice commentary about primate behavior and characteristics of the tropical exhibit. Our park naturalist appreciated their enthusiasm and graciously gave us more detail about the cotton-top tamarin, and the colobus monkey. Once again, the boys recorded their own interpretations of this expert information, and shared the multi-media evidence with their classmates in other zoo locations, as well as, with friends and family that didn't even attend the trip. Best of all, following this initial spark of learning, the boys used their smart phones to search for, and find, answers to their questions that the naturalist wasn't able to answer. Our lunch time conversation was dominated by what the students had learned and what they hoped to learn through additional research. Inquiry, research, interpretation, collaboration, discussion, planning, and problem-solving, all driven by 7th graders, without any prompting from adults!

I think you can sense where I am going with this. Based upon what I observed as a chaperon, here are my suggestions for making a very good learning experience even better...
  1. Go paperless! Eliminate the worksheets by using Google Docs to gather and share collected student information.  Use Google Maps and Google Earth to plan and track their zoo travels.
  2. Let the students and BYOD take over.  Allow students to create their own questions, and use their available mobile technologies to record and share their zoo experiences.
  3. Create a digital platform for students to share information and their digital products. A class blog would allow students to design and share a virtual trip to their collaborative zoo. (Pixel artist, Virtual Tour - Brookfield Zoo "Great Wild North" Exhibit)
  4. Students could record each other, interview style, explaining how zoo observations helped them design their ideal exhibit.
  5. Use Skype or Facetime to interview zoo experts and share thoughts and questions.
  6. Take virtual field trips to other zoos to compare exhibits and animal behaviors.  (St. Louis Zoo - Virtual Tour)
  7. Turn the experience into a PBL activity. What issues or problems does their selected species face? What issues or problems does the zoo face?  How can the students get involved and help? What solutions do the students propose?
My thanks to Ms. Marino, the 7th Grade Team, and their terrific students for their hospitality and their enthusiasm. It was a memorable, enjoyable day for all of us. I learned quite a bit from observing several varieties of primates and pachyderms! The following resources were shared by the Matthews Middle School 7th Grade Instructional Team.  I appreciate their transparency, their communication, and their progressive support of student learning.  Feel free to share your comments and suggestions for their "Animal Studies" science unit, as well as, your thoughts on this post.



Learning Resources - Animal Unit - Matthews Middle School

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