Zoo Partners with Local School to Create New Exhibit Signs
February 20, 2002
Sharon Wright / 202-673-0209
SMITHSONIAN'S NATIONAL ZOO PARTNERS WITH CAPITAL CITY PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL TO DEVELOP KID-FRIENDLY EXHIBITS
Kid power works. Just ask the students of David Philhower's third-grade class at Capital City Public Charter School in Columbia Heights and they will excitedly explain how they are in the process of helping to renovate and renew the interpretive graphics of the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park Small Mammal House.
Philhower said through Zoo and museum visits, the class developed a list of kid-friendly exhibit characteristics, that led to the development of their own classroom exhibit, "KIDS 2001: What We Like" in December 2001. According to Philhower, these "expeditions" are the cornerstone of the school's innovative learning system that gets students out of the classroom and into the community.
"The students get deeply involved in exciting projects while they build basic skills in reading, writing, math and science," said Philhower.
"The project grew out of the desire to create a fresh, new exhibit while replacing some of the older graphics around the park," said Aaron Ferster, exhibit writer with the Zoo's Department of Exhibits and Interpretation.
"Bob King, the curator in charge of the Small Mammal House, also wanted the capability to change the messages periodically so he could move animals around or keep up with sometimes rapidly changing conservation stories," said Ferster, who is heading the Zoo side of the project.
King and Ferster came up with the idea of using bulletin boards instead of fixed animal identification labels. Wanting to try something different with the bulletin board concept, Ferster decided to contact a local school to see if a group of students could create something that would deliver the important interpretive messages Zoo staff wanted to relay while at the same time appealing to children.
"Originally we were going to approach a local school and ask them to supply the artwork: drawings of the animals, maps, items like that. Then we thought why not let them do the whole thing," Ferster said.
Almost simultaneously, Philhower contacted Joe Lomicky with the Friends of the National Zoo Education Department to ask if there might be opportunities available for his students to develop an in-depth, yearlong class project. Lomicky contacted Ferster and immediately an educational partnership was formed between the Zoo and Philhower's third-grade class.
"From there, he's really taken off with the project and his kids seem to love it," Ferster said about Philhower's involvement in the project.
The research is being done in the classroom, with Philhower managing the research process and the students working in small groups. King provided the students with a list facts that must be put on the kid-friendly labels, including diet, habitat, social structure and reproduction. The students' task is to translate the adult information into simpler sentences.
The next step is for the Zoo's education and exhibits staff to guide the students in the creation and production of graphics for a series of bulletin-board interpretive cases. Using artwork, range maps and poems drawn or written by the students, the cases will present information on the biology of each animal and highlight some of the Zoo's conservation and reintroduction programs for such critically endangered species as black-footed ferrets and golden lion tamarins.
Philhower, a founding teacher who has taught at the school since its opening in September 2000, said the charter school uses Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound, which emphasizes project-based instruction to help students meet rigorous academic and character standards. The classes are also structured on the Responsive Classroom management model, which focuses on respectful social interaction as an integral part of children's cognitive development.
"Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound instruction gets students out of the standard classroom environment to not only teach them but also to give them a sense of ownership in the development and implementation of community projects," said Philhower.
"The project is turning out to be a perfect match," said Ferster. "The students are getting a great behind-the-scenes look at the National Zoo while they learn. And come this spring, the interpretive graphics for 10 species in the National Zoo's Small Mammal House will have an exciting new look. We hope to use what we learn to invite other groups in to work with us to complete the rest of the Small Mammal House."
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EDITOR'S NOTE: David Philhower's third-grade class will be visiting the National Zoo's Department of Exhibits and Interpretation on February 22 and they will be meeting with Zoo Director Lucy Spelman on March 1. Aaron Ferster also periodically visits the school to provide instruction during the research phase of this project. Please call Sharon Wright at (202) 673-0209 if you would like to cover any of these events.