At The Biome, we are striving to expand our learning ecosystem beyond our classrooms and into the community. We believe learning takes place everywhere. In St. Louis, we are fortunate to have incredible community assets such as a world-class zoo. Partnering with the Saint Louis Zoo, we’ve created an immersive, experiential learning experience for our second grade learners.
A core aspect of The Biome School curriculum is the incorporation of Big Question units. These units encourage learners to ask and answer real world questions. Projects are then designed based on the project based learning model or PBL. In PBL, students work on a project over an extended period of time (from a week up to a semester) that engages them in solving a real-world problem or answering a complex question. They demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a public product or presentation for a real audience. Research has shown that students learning through PBL retain content longer and have a deeper understanding of what they are learning (BIE, 2013).
“When we think about experiential learning at The Biome School, it isn’t about doing projects there at the school. We want our kids out in the community; it needs to be real world. We want them to experience the city of St. Louis – but, also, develop relationships with other adults in the community,” explains Bill Kent, President & CEO of The Biome.
This year, for the second grade zoo school experience, learners took on the challenge of researching the activity levels of different animals at the Zoo. To prepare for the onsite research experience, learners began brainstorming questions, creating preliminary maps, and gaining exposure to animals as St. Louis Zookeepers brought in a variety of animals such as snakes, turtles, and birds into the classroom.
From February 26 through March 5, our learners packed up their backpacks, grabbed their iPads, and we’re ready to hit the zoo. Using the iPad tool, Observe to Learn, learners took to observing animals, collecting data, and creating ethograms. Further, throughout the week, learners had the opportunity to make the Zoo their own. Daily, they interacted with the Zoo staff, created maps, measured distances, fed animals, practiced wayfinding, and worked together to solve problems.
Learning did not end once our learners were back in their classrooms at The Biome. Learners discovered the hard work of documenting their scientific work. Together, they created animal poems, developed a large-scale visual map, and reported their work through the scientific method documenting their question, hypotheses, procedures, and results.
So what did our learners think of their experience at the Zoo? They felt like true researchers! Tayonna, 2nd grade learner expressed, “I loved investigating the animals. It was exciting to go every single day and learn in new places.”