For many students, this school year is looking different than in previous years. Whether it be a combination of in-person and virtual classes or all virtual, the way students are learning has changed. With a larger focus on virtual learning, many of the benefits of attending in-person school, like attending field trips, are out of the picture this year and engaging students’ interests in core curriculum pose new obstacles for teachers and parents.
That’s where Milwaukee’s Zoological Society comes in. The Zoological Society has recognized these new challenges and educational needs of teachers and parents, and as a result, created virtual versions of their zoo learning programs through virtual zoo classes called ZooConnect.
ZooConnect provides a way for the Zoological Society to still connect and continue to serve the schools in Wisconsin and even the midwest as a whole.
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As a leader in informal education, the Milwaukee Zoological Society’s ZooConnect classes consist of material that is standards-based, recognizing the standards teachers are required to meet while keeping the programs fun and interactive at the same time for the students.
“We are a leader in informal education, particularly around biological sciences and conservation,” said Julia Petersen, Senior Director of Programs. “We really wanted to bring that to the virtual realm so that we could continue to serve our schools in the Milwaukee community and also beyond.”
However, the program isn’t just for schools. Individuals can also sign up for classes for their children.
“Within the individual realm, as an individual household, for example, a mom, or a dad, or a tutor, or a caretaker, someone who’s running a small pod of children in a neighborhood can go ahead and sign up for different offerings that are about 20 minutes to a half-hour long,” said Petersen.
There are different programs available called Zoo Class Explore and Zoo Class Live. Zoo Class Explore is an interactive program with a zoo educator, whereas Zoo Class Live is a real-time program with a zoo educator focusing on biofacts and including live animals to create an interactive experience. The content is presented differently based on the program. Additionally, the classes will have monthly themes. As the fall continues, the Zoological Society plans to add more classes.
“We’ve developed content that would help teachers to achieve the standards that they’re trying to achieve within their classroom. First and foremost, what an educator can expect is that they will be able to recognize the standards that are being achieved through the content,” said Petersen. “Then, the children can expect that it will be something that they learned from, but also that’s fun, that it’s interactive and that they feel like a part of a community zoo.”
Ultimately, the goal for the ZooConnect classes is to engage students and activate their curiosity in an educational yet fun setting.
“What we try to get back to is really having the kids activate their curiosity, expand all the knowledge that they’re learning about, but specifically also foster empathy for animals and the natural world and that’s really what we’re trying to get out of all of the programs we are doing,” said Yvonne Schramm, Manager of Enrichment Programs.