Students Become the Teachers at Lincoln Park Zoo

Students from Newberry Academy learn the basics of animal observations from eighth-grade "teachers" from Francis W. Parker School...all part of the zoo's Community of Conservation educational outreach.

Growing the Community of Conservation

Unseasonably warm weather wasn’t the only unusual occurrence on at Lincoln Park Zoo Monday. The teaching tables had turned as zoo educators stood back and let students take the reins.

Second and third graders from Newberry Academy, a Chicago Public School magnet elementary, sat quieter than average for a group of 25 kids all under 8 years old as seventh graders from Chicago’s Francis W. Parker School taught them the ins and outs of ethology—science-speak for behavioral observation.

“Kids enjoy learning from other kids,” said Student Programs Coordinator Katie Hawkins. “That is really what this entire grant is about, giving the students the tools to do the science themselves and then sitting back and letting them use that knowledge and communicate it to others.”

The Museums & Community Collaborations Abroad grant from the American Association of Museums and U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has made a series of science and communication-based initiatives possible. The same funding enabled three zoo educators, including Hawkins, and a Francis W. Parker science teacher to travel to the partner schools and museum in Niger earlier this year.

In addition to organizing buses to bring students to the zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo provided lesson plans and research materials to Newberry so they can continue their animal studies from the comfort of their own campus. And it seems the spark was lit.

 “My chimp was pretty lazy, but it was way cool to see him up close,” said 8-year-old Aaron, who observed gorillas and chimpanzees at the zoo’s Regenstein Center for African Apes.

His middle school “teacher,” 13-year-old Norma, came away impressed by her young charge’s aptitude for learning. “It’s great to see how the Newberry students are taking everything in; it sort of lets me re-live when I was learning all this for the first time. They seem so little to us, but they are really smart!”

Parker school group leader Sydney, also 13, said becoming a teacher one day is “under consideration,” especially after getting a taste of the job with the two Newberry students she mentored.


by Tiffany Ruddle • Published March 20, 2012

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