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Students Explore Ecosystems and Food Chains via a Virtual Conference with the Milwaukee County Zoo

Last fall, fifth grade students at Everest Virtual Academy studied ecosystems, food webs and food chains. To supplement the virtual lessons, EVA instructor Kathlyne Moore secured a grant from the Kohl Foundation that allowed students to visit with staff at the Milwaukee County Zoo. The virtual event was designed to give students the opportunity to apply what they had learned in the classroom by answering questions and participating in discussions led by zoo personnel. It also was designed to provide them with critical 21st-century communication skills. During their daily class meetings, students share experiences, ask questions and receive live instruction. This virtual event would take that to the next level. “Video conferencing has a great impact on students’ success in virtual education,” noted Ms. Moore. “They need to feel at ease and comfortable interacting with others on virtual platforms. It’s a great way to connect with a broader community.”

The Zoo guide, Erika, presented a series of lessons that dovetailed with what students had been learning in their virtual classrooms.  Students observed three different animal skulls and then had to choose what type of consumers the animals were based on the structure of the skull:  herbivore, omnivore, or  carnivore. “It was a wonderful opportunity for students to visualize what adaptations these animals had and how the shape of their teeth was directly related to what they eat,” noted Ms. Moore.

Erika also used a storyboard with pictures to create two different food chains: one from the savannah of Africa and the other from the rainforests of South America. She discussed with students the implications of changes or disruptions to the food chains and then let students propose possible scenarios. Cleo, a chinchilla from South America who visited with students during the virtual event, was very popular with the students.

One of the unforeseen benefits of the virtual tour was the participation of students’ siblings. “During the session students could answer and ask questions via the chat feature or live during the session. Several students participated with their younger siblings and it was inspiring to see our fifth graders mentor and encourage their siblings to give answers.”  

 Another valuable lesson? Dealing with the challenges technology can sometimes pose. “I commend my fifth grade class and their enthusiasm for the entire experience,” adds Ms. Moore. “They had to persevere through some technological hoops to get to the zoo meeting and they did it like the champions they are.”

EVA Students on A Field Trip

The chinchilla was popular with students

Photo courtesy of Ally Nemitz