As we head into summer getting out of the classroom is an excellent opportunity for a change of scenery, some fresh air and an engaging, active way to introduce a new topic.
With the growing understanding of the importance of spending time in nature both for your physical and mental health, it’s clear that taking learning out into the wild can be beneficial both alongside and beyond the curriculum. Going outside also gives you the opportunity to incorporate wildlife into your students’ studies. We find that children are often full of questions about animals and if they are working to answer their own questions can be more engaged in finding the answers, so these activities can be the perfect way to introduce different ways of working scientifically.
We’re going on a minbeast hunt!
For primary students, a minibeast hunt can be the perfect way to hit some curriculum links whilst getting students out in the open air. It’s a great way to make the most of any green spaces nearby school and doesn’t require any specialist equipment – all you’ll need is some small plastic pots (tuppaware will do!), spoons, a recording sheet and identification guide and a place to hunt.
Students can develop their team working skills by working in pairs to find animals and it also gives them a chance to practice using identification keys and recording data.
There is a whole host of ways to follow up back in the classroom, incorporating lots of different subjects, from exploring food webs to thinking of different ways of presenting data. You could even get them to design a minibeast hotel or wildlife garden to encourage more invertebrates to the study area. Consider repeating the activity at different times of year and comparing results, prompting students to think about the differences between different seasons.
You can find a handy resource to guide you through a minibeast hunt here. Designed to help groups explore the Woodland Walk at ZSL London Zoo, it is just as useful a guide to any green space near you!
Alternatively, why not incorporate a minibeast hunt in to your school trip? Many organisations including ZSL Whipsnade Zoo have minibeast hunting areas and resources.
What’s that animal up to?
Animal behaviour studies can also be a great way to get students following their own line of enquiry out in the open air. In several of our primary and secondary school sessions, students work to collect and analyse their own data sets from observations of the animals at our zoos - something that’s easily repeatable away from the zoo setting.
After an introduction to the species and why behaviour studies are carried out, in our workshops students are tasked, in pairs, to record an individual’s behaviour at 15 second intervals across five minutes.
Collecting their own data set allows students to take ownership of the numbers, making them more likely to engage in the analysis – particularly as it gives the activity a real-world context. When students record animal behaviour, they are doing just as our keepers and conservationists do on a regular basis. By observing the behaviour of the animals in our care we can ensure they are all healthy and in the wild, these sorts of studies help us learn more about a species and how they’re responding to threats.
Setting up a simple bird feeder in the school grounds or taking a trip to a local duck pond can offer good opportunities to study the behaviour of local wildlife. You could also explore purchasing a motion sensor camera to set up in the school grounds if your interested in exploring what animals are using the area at night.
To come and have a go with some more exotic animals, book yourself onto a Giraffe Behaviour Study session at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (available for KS2-KS4) or an Animal Behaviour Study with our lions and langurs (KS4) or black-capped squirrel monkeys at ZSL London Zoo (Post 16).
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