New learning environments: oceans, savannas, and wetlands

Isaiah Jolly, 12, a seventh-grader at Arizona Connections Academy (ACA), explores Biosphere 2. (Photo courtesy of ACA)

Which is more fun: sitting at a desk reading a textbook that describes exotic fish on a coral reef or a lion in the savanna…or watching tropical fish swim by and a lion go about its daily routine?

For the students of Arizona Connections Academy (ACA), a recent visit to Biosphere 2 in Oracle presented them with the opportunity to see many exotic environments up close.

Biosphere 2 is a 3.14-acre facility modeled after the original biosphere, the earth. It is the home of five different ecosystems including ocean and coral reef, mangrove wetlands, tropical rainforest, savanna grasslands and a fog desert. Through a very complicated system of air, temperature and moisture control, Biosphere 2 can maintain these environments very much like they occur in nature.

ACA, a tuition-free virtual public school, gathered 140 students for the trip. Students were able to get up close and smell the ocean, something one doesn’t often experience living in Arizona.

Students at Kyrene School District have paired up with the Phoenix Zoo to create Project Zoo Lab II: Return to the Savanna. As part of the project, after-school students are given a live video feed from the Phoenix Zoo, hosted by Liesl Pimentel, manager of education and formal programs at the zoo.

Close to 1,200 students are involved. Every Thursday afternoon, students are presented with a 25-minute live video feed from Pimentel as she shows students the construction of the savanna exhibit, entertains the kids with silly lectures and interviews zoo staff. For the remaining 35 minutes, students work on building their own savanna exhibit model to be shown off during Zoo Day.

The first session is an introduction to get students thinking about how they will create their own exhibits. The following sessions focus on:

• getting to know your animal
• replicating your animal’s natural habitat
• animal viewing and the guest experience
• animal night houses
• behavioral enrichment
• education and programs

Pimentel conducts a live chat going during the broadcast so she can ask questions and get immediate answers from the teachers in the classrooms. “Even though I can’t see into the classroom, I can get a sense of how the classes are reacting to and comprehending the information,” she says. “I hope it makes the students feel more directly connected with me as well.”

While it’s not an African safari, the experience gives students a chance to think critically about something they would normally never get to do. How many kids do you know that who have built homes for giraffes?

“The answers and feedback students provide, along with questions they pose through the broadcast chat, make it easy to see that they are thinking critically and applying the information from the broadcasts to their classroom exhibits,” says Pimentel. “When those moments become obvious to all of us involved in the broadcast, we can’t contain our excitement either. You’ll find us smiling and hollering, “They’re learning!! They’re really learning!”

One response to “New learning environments: oceans, savannas, and wetlands

  1. I went to the Biosphere 2! It was really fun :) My old school never had any field trips.

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