Technology Helps the Zoo Teach Kids

Education is an important part of the Virginia Zoo’s mission. The Education Department provides a variety of programs for schools, families, and individuals from Safari camps to field trips to ZooLive! stage presentations. We love facilitating opportunities to help our visitors learn more about our world and its fantastic animals, and we’re always looking for new ways to expand our educational opportunities. New technology has recently given us the possibility to not only reach people close to us, but also those who are far away – even as far away as Canada.

The Zoo is now working with an organization called Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants which brings science, exploration, adventure, and conservation into classrooms across the United States and Canada by facilitating virtual field trips with leading experts from around the world. Each field trip is hosted through Google hangouts and allows scientists from around the world to present their work and answer live questions from the classes to which they are virtually connected. In September, the Zoo had the opportunity to share our animals through video chatting with classrooms of Kindergarteners through 7th graders from five different U.S. states and one Canadian province. We video chatted with students in the following locations:

• San Antonio, Texas
• Bristol, Connecticut
• Anaheim, California
• Freehold, New Jersey
• Gaspe, Quebec (Canada)
• Pennington Gap, Virginia

Travis Steffens, a member of the Board of Directors of Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants facilitated the program while two of the Zoo’s education team members, Stephanie Peters and Jess Haddock, presented a few special guests – reptilian animal ambassadors. The theme of last month’s virtual program was Remarkable Reptiles, and students were able to meet new reptiles, learn about their amazing adaptations, and ask questions in real time.

Jess and Stephanie took turns presenting animal ambassadors, which included Reagan the Argentine tegu, Flapjack the pancake tortoise, Kirk the legless lizard, and Lernon the common boa constrictor. They also educated the students on traits that make reptiles such a unique group within the animal kingdom. By the end of the program, 182 students and seven adults had a better understanding of the adaptations that our scaly friends use to survive.

“The biggest benefit of the program is that it allows students from many different places and backgrounds the access to people and places that otherwise may be inaccessible to them,” said Zoo Education Manager Michelle Lewis. “Many students and school districts are unable to take field trips due to funding or the lack of a Zoo or other similar institution within field-trip distance. By partnering with this organization, the Virginia Zoo is able to connect students to amazing animals that they may otherwise never get a chance to see.”

Another perk of the program is that anyone, anywhere can watch the presentation at any time! The entire presentation is recorded and posted online on YouTube after the program concludes. Although viewers won’t be able to ask questions or interact as the students were able to, the video is packed full of fun and educational information. Anyone is invited to enjoy the video here.

The Virginia Zoo is scheduled to give another presentation on a different animal group. The next session, which will feature amphibians, is scheduled for Thursday, October 11 at 2 pm. Your child’s class could watch it live here.

Want your class to participate in a Google hangout and ask questions? Click here for more information on how a virtual classroom works and be sure to apply for the program and register.