Woodland Park Zoo’s “Ready, Set, Discover” gets kids outside

readysetdiscoverBy Katie Remine, School and Community Engagement Supervisor
Woodland Park Zoo

“With an opportunity to wonder, explore, and to question, students can discover fresh reasons to excel at other subjects and sense new confidence because they pursued and acted upon their inquiry. “
—Bruce Kelly, Kent School District, K-12 Curriculum Coordinator – Science/Health Fitness

The reflection above captures the spirit of Woodland Park Zoo’s Ready, Set, Discover (RSD) program for 4th and 5th grade students in south King County, including many schools in the Kent School District. RSD, supported by The Boeing Company, integrates programs on and off Woodland Park Zoo grounds to engage students in outdoor, inquiry-based science learning to improve science skills and to foster stewardship of the environment.

Over a two-year period, students participated in seven RSD experiences designed to bring nature-based science into their classrooms. Some RSP experiences also took students out into nature for field research, and connected students with nature at the zoo. In the view of Kent School District’s K-12 Science and Health Curriculum coordinator, Bruce Kelly, “authentic, relevant, and developmentally appropriate experiences like the RSD program remind us of the salient characteristics that make learning enjoyable and that learning is an intrinsically satisfying endeavor.”

Fourth graders start by visiting the zoo for an ecosystems program led by zoo naturalists. Students practice observation skills, deepen their understanding of ecosystem components and get an introduction to the scientific inquiry process that will drive the next two years of nature-based experiences.

Following their zoo visit, students engage in three Wild Wise programs which deepen their understanding and exploration of ecosystems. Wild Wise is the zoo’s interactive multimedia presentation that explores Washington habitats, wildlife and ecosystems.  In the classroom, students sharpen their observation skills as they virtually “visit” Washington habitats by making observations, taking field notes and sketching wildlife. In their schoolyard, students further hone their observation skills by investigating birds and other animals in their schoolyards.

Then, students take their newly developed field scientist skills to a local park, or out into nearby forests and beaches to discover wildlife in their communities. According to Bruce Kelly, the RSD program “harnesses the wonder of authentic experiences to bolster scientific inquiry skills and feelings of connectedness to the environment.  Directly linking students with the zoo and credentialed program staff ensures students engage in a rich contextual experience around the science standards at a developmentally pivotal time.”

In the second year of RSD, fifth graders engage in two more Wild Wise programs: an inquiry-focused schoolyard program and a field trip to a local park during which students ask their own questions about nature and answer them through field investigations. The RSD experience culminates with a final visit to the zoo where students present the results of their field investigations to each other and to the zoo’s Nature Exchange and naturalist staff. At the conclusion of the program, students receive free passes to return to the zoo with their families and continue their nature learning.

By integrating program experiences with classroom curriculum over two years, the RSD program enhances student achievement and an understanding of ecosystems. Bruce Kelly notes that, “specifically, the program buttresses (Washington State Essential Academic Learning Requirements) EALR 1 Systems and EALR 4 Life Science standards with a relevant and open-ended approach to learning. While championing a positive impact on student learning and interest in science, the RSD program and dedicated staff propels students toward an inquiry focused project and equips them with science literacy skills.”

Zoo opportunities for school groups to enhance ecological literacy:

  • Join a docent for a ZEST (Zoo Experiences for Students and Teachers) program
  • Have the zoo come to your King County school with a Wild Wise or Up CLOSE program.

For more information, go to www.zoo.org

King County schools with a minimum of 30 percent of their students receiving free or reduced-rate lunches, or a comparable level of scholarship, qualify for free admission and reimbursed bus transportation for a zoo fieldtrip or to attend a School-to-Zoo or ZEST program.