Sharing STEM at the Zoo

Holly Hendersen is the Marketing and Communications Specialist for Baraboo School District in Baraboo, Wisconsin. The school district offers PLTW programs including PLTW Gateway at Jack Young Middle School.

The animals at Ochsner Park Zoo in Baraboo, Wisconsin, received several special deliveries this fall from the Jack Young Middle School STEM classes taught by PLTW teacher Stacy Parsons. These students, currently taking the Design and Modeling unit, have been using the engineering design process to create enrichment toys and activities for the zoo animals.

Both in-person and virtual students constructed the enrichment pieces from things like cardboard, wood, and paper mâché, keeping in mind the animals' dietary restrictions and safety. Items included:

  • a toy for the bald eagle with a broken wing to help relieve the tedium of being flightless,
  • a paper mâché container filled with peanuts made to look like a banana for the monkeys,
  • a log attached to a rope to hang in the otter exhibit so that it swings when the otters climb on it, with holes drilled into the sides as a place to hide treats, and
  • a student designed 10-foot long goat ramp built from a recycled pallet.

Virtual STEM students dropped their projects off with Mrs. Parsons at the end of the unit, and she took those projects and the in-person STEM students on a walking field trip to the zoo. The students were able to deliver their projects, explain their use and design to the Ochsner Park staff, and watch the animals' reactions as they are given the projects to play with.

“This project worked well because it brought the unit to life for the students,” Stacy said. “They were able to see firsthand how applying the design process can be used in a real-world way. Students really enjoyed bettering the lives of the animals and having the opportunity to make a positive impact on our community. Creating a community partnership between the STEM program and the zoo have been beneficial for all. We are excited to continue and grow our partnership next year.”

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