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Friday, August 17, 2012
For almost a year now, I’ve been working to help bring the zoo’s new fleet of mobile learning stations to life. Last September, the zoo’s educators were thrilled to hear that our grant proposal to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) had been selected to receive funding, and that we’d soon be embarking on an 18-month-long journey to imagine, design and build six brand-new stations for volunteers to facilitate on grounds.
Six doesn’t sound like such a big number, and 18 months seems like a long time. But one of our guiding principles is that form follows function. The design of each station we build must be uniquely tied to the activity for which it’s intended. We can’t just make six all-purpose stations and then facilitate some activities on them. We first have to devise an activity that adheres to one of three primary educational focuses: conservation, adaptation or animal care. Then we script it out and give it a test drive on grounds.
Once we have something we think will work, it’s time for the next step in the process: design. This step is my personal favorite. It involves countless brainstorming sessions with our designer and evening meetings with our advisory team, a group composed of zoo members, volunteers, teachers and teens who help us decide which content and designs will be best for zoo guests.
After the written materials are finalized and the cart designs are sketched out, it’s time to build. Each station is a one-of-a-kind creation, constructed by a team of professional exhibit fabricators with input from the zoo’s design and education departments.
Two of the new stations are currently on grounds: Animals Like Us and Secrets of the Zoo. To find them, just look for the banners of the same name. Adaptation is the focus of the Animals Like Us station, where guests discover what they have in common with the residents of Lincoln Park Zoo and are given the opportunity to build their own predator species. At the Secrets of the Zoo station, guests learn about animal care. They discover the answers to their most burning questions about animal diets and enrichment, like “Which food does the zoo feed out most?” and “Do gorillas eat Cheerios?” Additional stations making their debut on grounds in the next six months will likely focus on habitats, the zoo’s conservation programs and some stinky science, but I won’t give too much away now!
Averaged out, we get about three months per cart to do all of this. It’s a demanding process, but the rewards so far have been incredible. We’re already seeing the benefits these carts are bringing to zoo guests. Families follow the stations as volunteers push them out for the day, and parents take pictures of the “predators” their children build on our Animals Like Us station.
It’s clear these mobile learning stations are helping guests form lasting memories of their visits to Lincoln Park Zoo. Our hope is that, as the program evolves and takes root, the knowledge gained by guests will form the foundation for a lifelong connection to the natural world.
Amanda Berlinski is Lincoln Park Zoo’s Coordinator of Guest Engagement.