Posts Tagged With: education

Conservation concerns brought to life with interactive art displays from 9th graders

Conservation concerns about animals may not be top of mind for most teenagers, but the ninth graders at Village Tech High School are far from typical.

The students from the Cedar Hill charter school were challenged this past spring to think deeply about endangered animals for a semester-long project integrating many different school subjects with an end goal of a prototype interactive sculpture.

A partnership with the Dallas Zoo elevated the original challenge by giving the students the opportunity to talk with experts and possibly have their work displayed to the public.

“The Zoo gives the project credibility and an authentic audience,” said Justin Robinson, the director of the Forge, the school lab that brought these projects to life.

By the end of the year, the ninth graders completed four interactive art display prototypes highlighting the ocelot, African elephant, hawksbill sea turtle and western lowland gorilla. These projects used art, engineering, science and more to tell the tale of endangered species.

“We want every project to result in people taking action,” said Dallas Zoo director of Education, Marti Copeland. “[Their work] exceeded my expectations.”

Learn more about each project:

Western lowland gorilla African elephant


The western lowland gorilla team planned to create a gorilla sculpture that looks like it is covered in concrete, emphasizing the habitat destruction that is threatening the animal’s population.


This team created a mechanical sculpture showing the stride of an adult elephant. An integrated 15 minute countdown clock reminds the public how often an elephant is killed in the wild for its ivory.

Ocelot Hawksbill sea turtle


The ocelot team created a sand timer wheel with facts about the carnivore. As you spin the wheel and read the facts about ocelots, the sand timer continually empties, much like the ocelot species in the wild.


The team created a hologram projection of a hawksbill sea turtle swimming. It’s activated with a 3D-printed button. The team tried using living dinoflagellates marine plankton to illuminate the activation button.

The hawksbill sea turtle and African elephant projects were selected by Zoo judges to be scaled up and adapted into public displays at the Children’s Aquarium and Dallas Zoo.

It’s onto the (now) tenth graders to press on with the projects. With the conceptual idea and prototypes created, they must solve more problems like how to scale up the sculptures, make them self-maintaining and safe for the public before eventually debuting the sculptures at the two venues.

Congratulations to the students at Village Tech. We can’t wait to see these larger-than-life projects with important message inside our Zoo and Aquarium gates!

Categories: Conservation, Education | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reinventing the natural world explorer

Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo supervisor, Melody Wood, guest blogs on ZooHoo.

Splashing in a puddle. Building a snowman. Making a wish on a dandelion cast to the wind. Building a fort in the woods.

Momentous Institute teachers rediscover how to play.

Momentous Institute teachers rediscover how to play.

Most of us remember such moments from childhood. Unfortunately, memories like these are increasingly scarce for today’s children, who are trading authentic experiences for ones seen on a screen. But zoos and aquariums are stepping up to help reverse the trend of lost nature experiences.

Research has shown that zoological park visits promote an increased connection with nature, acting as a gateway to the wild world for millions of visitors every year.

With the help of a $10,000 grant, the Dallas Zoo is combatting couch-potato syndrome.

Teachers made a weaving board from an old cereal box and items found in nature.

Teachers made a weaving board from an old cereal box and items found in nature.

We recently were awarded a “Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium” grant from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and The Walt Disney Co., one of just 30 zoos and aquariums chosen to receive this special funding, designed to get families outside, playing in nature.

We’ve used the grant to create a new program, WildFUN (Families United in Nature), to introduce urban, under-served families to unstructured nature play, both on Zoo grounds and in community parks.

Facilitators from the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo recently flew south to lead staff from the Dallas Zoo’s Children’s Zoo, Education Department, and teachers from our program partner, Momentous Institute, in a three-day nature play training workshop called NatureStart.

NatureStart was designed as a training program for informal education professionals working with young children and their families at museums, zoos, aquariums, and nature centers. Participants rediscovered environmentally friendly ways to encourage children to care about the natural world and their role in it.

The Zoo has made a five-year commitment to work with pre-K children and their families at the Momentous Institute, a private school where 80 percent of students come from low-income families. At the end of the first year, the WildFUN participating families will create their own Family Nature Club. The program will include trips to local parks, neighborhood green spaces and, of course, the Zoo.

Dallas Zoo and Momentous Institute NatureStart workshop participants.

Dallas Zoo and Momentous Institute NatureStart workshop participants.

Equipped with techniques and activities designed to encourage exploration and discovery, Dallas Zoo staff are now ready to encourage kids to jump, run, dance, and build their way to a play-based nature adventure.


Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family), Conservation, Education | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The (animal) kingdom by night

Sleep at the Zoo on a “Lights Out” group overnight campout

Girl Scouts make s’mores at the Savanna fire pit during a Lights Out overnight. Dallas Zoo/Cathy Burkey

Girl Scouts make s’mores at the Savanna fire pit during a Lights Out overnight. Dallas Zoo/Cathy Burkey

Lions, tigers and … venomous creatures of the night, oh my! Ever wonder what goes on at the Zoo after the gates are closed and the lights go out?

It’s a full sensory experience under the Texas stars. Grab a flashlight and head out for a private, guided expedition as the sun sets and twilight takes over. You’ll explore the nooks and crannies of the Zoo, guided by a knowledgeable safari guide. (If you’re lucky, she might even play the ukulele.)

Stop by Primate Place to see a colobus monkey prove its dominance; the Wings of Wonder to hear an eagle owl vocalize an “ooh-hu;” or the Koala Walkabout to see these marsupials do what they do best… sleep. (Eucalyptus leaves contain an enzyme to make them doze!)


It’s lights out in Camp Okapi for the Girl Scouts. Dallas Zoo/Cathy Burkey

Experience a special animal presentation in the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo, where you’ll get to meet and touch a variety of animals that aren’t on public exhibit. At the herpetarium, see a scaly python. Or investigate animal adaptation by encountering ocelots and other nocturnal species. Enjoy a midnight snack by the campfire, then sleep only meters away from the king of the jungle – so you’ll wake up to nature’s alarm clock.

The Lights Out Group Overnight is an educational and inspirational experience for children and adults alike, with nature at your fingertips and adventure around every corner. With enlightening leaders from the Zoo’s Education Department, you’ll see the Dallas Zoo in a whole new light.

(If you’re not ready for a full overnight adventure, our Twilight Safari Night Hikes resume Nov. 14, featuring a guided nighttime tour through the park from 7-10 p.m.)

For more info or to register, visit or call 469-554-7500.

Lights Out Overnight dates:

Overnights start at 7 p.m. and end at 10 a.m. the following day, and are offered to organized groups only. (Our new Family Campout offers a similar campout available to those not in organized groups. See the website for more details.) Activities include an after-hours tour, arts and crafts, encounters with nocturnal animals and a light snack. A continental breakfast the next morning is followed by a zookeeper talk. Each child receives an official Dallas Zoo “Lights Out” patch. Minimum group size is 10; maximum size is 50. A minimum of one adult per 10 children is required.

Dates this fall:

  • Friday, Oct. 3
  • Saturday, Oct. 4
  • Friday, Oct. 10
  • Saturday, Oct. 11
  • Friday, Oct. 17
  • Saturday, Oct. 18
  • Friday, Nov. 7
  • Saturday, Nov. 8


Categories: Education, Events, Exhibits and Experiences, Overnight campouts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Second-graders pitch new animals to our team

It’s not every day we have a group of 8-year-olds pitching our experts on what animals they think our zoo should have. That’s exactly what Lesa Haney’s second-grade Polser Elementary class did, with enthusiasm, confidence, and a whole lot of research.

The class of 21 second-graders researched five animals they think should be in our collection: pandas, dog-faced bats, hummingbirds, a komodo dragon, and gorillas (although we already have gorillas, we still listened).

Check out the Dallas Zoo as they Skype with Polser Elementary.

Harrison Edell and Marti Copeland are beamed directly into a Polser Elementary classroom via Skype, which is how they discussed the students’ suggestions for new animals.

Our senior director of living collections, Harrison Edell, and our director of education, Marti Copeland, Skyped with the class as they presented their projects and asked questions.

We were amazed at the effort the children put into their pitches. They spent three weeks working on their presentations, which included a fully designed panda and gorilla habitat made out of clay and a dog-faced bat puppet show. And our experts agreed we’d love to have any of the animals the students suggested here at the Zoo.

And because they’re modern students, they even tweeted their project on Twitter, bringing engagement from The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. To learn more about the project and to watch their YouTube video presentations, click here.



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