By Kirsten Weihl
What do squirrel monkey behavior studies, “painting the river green,” and people running around with periodic table t-shirts have in common? The annual National Science Teacher Conference in Chicago! On St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I was selected to present at the annual NSTA conference about SHC’s collaboration with the San Francisco Zoo and our animal behavior study curriculum. Last spring, the San Francisco Zoo and I jointly designed an inquiry-based animal behavior study curriculum which was beta tested in an SHC academic exploration. Students used the “observe to learn” technology developed by the Chicago Lincoln Park Zoo to collect data on zoo animals’ behavior.
Each group of SHC students spent four days designing their animal behavior research experiment, developing ethograms, collecting data, analyzing data and presenting their finding. The curriculum was such a success that is currently being implemented in middle schools throughout San Francisco. Even the Salesforce Foundation wanted part of the action and has developed the Zooforce which provides middle schools with volunteers that will work with students on their animal study.
Of course, we wanted to take the show on the road. While this curriculum has made the rounds at several zoo conferences, we felt that we needed to share it with teachers as well. I presented to a group of teachers wearing periodic table t-shirts and received very positive feedback. All have the intention of integrating this into their curriculum. It was also an opportunity for me to attend other sessions and learn from other teachers. I came home with some exciting new ideas and strategies. And Saturday morning, I was there with several thousand Chicagoans watching the river being painted neon green. My next challenge: recreate the dye and try it in the classroom!