Putting the zoo in Zoom

Issue: Volume 100, Number 16

Posted: 8 December 2021
Reference #: 1HARgf

Classroom trips to the zoo were put on hold during Auckland’s long lockdown, but a team at Auckland Zoo found a way to share their passion for animals and conservation and offer something new for teachers and students engaged in remote learning.

Auckland Zoo's Lizzy Lockhart.

Auckland Zoo's Lizzy Lockhart.

When Auckland went into lockdown this year, the conservation learning team, which runs onsite programmes at Auckland Zoo for early learning centres, schools and kura, began to develop some engaging and informative resources for teachers and students.

The team were all working from home, but it soon became apparent that there was considerable interest from teachers.

About 140 Year 5 and 6 students from Northcote Primary School had been scheduled to visit the zoo to launch their inquiry into change in week six of term 3.

“The students were interested in animal adaptations; how they manage with a changing environment due to global warming and how they enrich and stimulate zoo animals in their habitats,” says teacher Kelly Mattock.

“The zoo emailed me a week after we were supposed to visit, to offer a Zoom session as an option as we didn’t get to go – it was free. I jumped at the chance because I knew it would be nice for the kids to see someone else on Zoom.

“During the Zoom, we all dressed up as our favourite animals. We gave the students ideas of how they could use things around the house to dress up – like the use of make-up or face paint, or you might modify a headband. They loved it – some of them changed their Zoom backgrounds if they couldn’t dress up,” she says.

Engagement online

This is the first time Auckland Zoo has offered online sessions. Previously the learning team focused on creating learning packs for teachers to use during lockdowns, but this time around, they looked at different ways to support teachers to engage tamariki while learning at home.

“We’re hearing from teachers that engagement from kids is dropping and Zoom fatigue is very real for a lot of us – so how do we keep it fresh and keep them engaged in wanting to learn more about science and conservation?” says Lizzy Lockhart, conservation learning duty operations manager at the zoo.

“We started pretty simple with a zoo Q&A session. The students in a class would send in their questions prior to the session, and we would choose the ones that we would have good answers for. They seemed to really like them, and they were fun for our team because we felt connected to the zoo, while we were working at home.

“To keep it interactive, we’re trying a few different things like a game ‘Match the habitat’ where we put online photos of different habitats at the zoo and get the kids to try and guess which animals live there,” she explains.

To keep things fresh and exciting, the team gives zoo updates and photos of the animals they’re talking about as well as ‘secret’ information about what’s going on at the zoo. There’s a Facebook group which features videos, activities, news, and information.

While the inquiry on change has been put on the backburner, Kelly says the experience heightened students’ interest in animals. She used reading materials and videos provided by the zoo to keep the enthusiasm and momentum going after the Zoom session.

“Having experts in the field to answer all their questions really helped, and they made it really fun and engaging. It’s definitely sparked some curiosity in some students who didn’t seem that interested before. They’ve also found their own readings and they’ve taken an interest in animals,” says Kelly.

Kelly Mattock

Kelly Mattock

Wellbeing during lockdown

There was an opportunity for teachers to tell the zoo team what their class was studying and how the zoo experience connects with learning, but Lizzy says there were some common questions such as how the animals are coping during lockdown, what the zookeepers are doing, and who is feeding the animals.

“Almost every session we have talked about how the animals were coping durng lockdown, what the zookeepers were doing and who was feeding the animals.

“We’d often start with asking the kids what keeps them happy and healthy in lockdown and they’d say things like ‘Going for a walk and seeing a friend in the distance’ and those were things we could connect to the animals too – like animals still need exercise and their healthy food,” explains  Lizzy.

Kelly says the ‘Zoo Zoom’ sessions came at a good time.

“We were all feeling a bit flat and to have something different and see some people who were really passionate and engaged in what they do makes it really easy to engage. It’s helped me think about ‘OK what are we going to do that’s different each couple of days, so we can keep everybody excited?’” she says.

Silver lining

The latest lockdown motivated the zoo team to grow their skills in reaching ākonga remotely.

“Our team is really excited about the idea of not just delivering conservation learning onsite, which is really only limited to the schools that can afford it and to the schools in our local area.

“With online sessions, we can reach schools that are too far away to come and visit, but still want to have that conservation learning connection. Lockdown has given us a chance to experiment with the format and see what works for the schools and the teachers.

“For the future we’re looking at how we can combine Zoo visits with both online and offsite support for teachers and their tamariki to really extend their conservation learning beyond just a fun trip to the zoo.

“We’d love to hear from teachers about what they would like to see from us – either via our website or Facebook group,” says Lizzy.

Find out more information about Auckland Zoo’s education programme(external link)

To join the zoo fun, visit Auckland Zoo’s Facebook page(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 12:37 PM, 8 December 2021

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