Posts Tagged ‘Education Programs’

Zoo Docents: Developing the next generation of inspiration

by | October 11th, 2013
Docent with Animal Skull

Docent with Animal Skull

These days, forty years is a long time for something to last—unless it’s made out of cast iron or granite. But that’s almost how long we’ve had our docent program here at Oakland Zoo. I was still in high school back in 1974 when the first docents headed out into the Zoo, ready to greet the public. Since then, the Zoo has grown tremendously and we’ve seen more than 400 enthusiastic men and women join our team of volunteer educators over the years. Right now, we’ve got almost 90 on board. And I can’t imagine this place running without them.

Inspiring a Young Zoo Visitor

Inspiring a Young Zoo Visitor

But what exactly does a docent do, you might ask. Docents, in the same way that ambassadors represent foreign nations, are the vital link between the public and various educational and scientific institutions. Often operating with limited funding, many of these organizations couldn’t function properly without a team of these volunteers. You see them at museums, science centers, historical sites and, of course, zoos. They handle a variety of tasks, including leading tours, answering questions, and assisting people in need of help. But some of their contributions are a bit more ethereal. They inspire. They enlighten. They connect people with things they may not have been exposed to before. You might say docents help create the next generation of supporters and in some cases, future employees.

So what does it take to be a part of such a team? How do you become a docent here at Oakland Zoo? If you’re outgoing, enjoy working with the public and have a love of animals, you might be just what Oakland Zoo is looking for. But like anything else worth doing, it takes commitment and a bit of work.

Docent Training Class

Docent Training Class

It all starts with the application process, which can be initiated through Oakland Zoo’s website. Once your application has been accepted and a background check is complete, you attend an orientation before you begin the training. Our comprehensive 15-week docent training class provides prospective docents with a solid background that includes an overview of the Zoo’s animal collection, conservation efforts, zoology and taxonomy, customer service and interpretive training. The training is a collaborative effort between education department staff, zookeepers and veteran docents. In those 15 weeks, you’ll get classroom instruction, special lectures, as well as homework assignments, quizzes, and presentations. There’s even a mentoring program to provide one-on-one assistance.

 

Once you’ve passed the final exam and graduated, you’ll officially be an Oakland Zoo docent. After that, you need to fulfill a minimum requirement of 70 public hours of service per year as well as earning 4 credits of continuing education by attending lectures, classes, etc. But since our docents find the work so rewarding, most of them enjoy contributing even more time to the Zoo.

Man Your Battle Stations: 20 Years of Conservation ZooMobile

by | January 11th, 2012

Question: What makes the Conservation Zoomobile different from the other wonderful ZooMobile programs offered by the Oakland Zoo? For one thing, it’s a team effort– and a very loyal team at that. For nearly twenty years (since being founded by docent Edna Mack), the CZM has been led exclusively by the same group of four docents! (Only recently did Harry, Roland, Claire and Debbie recruit some new blood.)

Hands-On Learning Fun

Yet, it’s more than team teaching that makes this program unique. Offered only on Wednesdays during the school year, CZM travels to elementary schools throughout the East Bay to teach kids in the 3rd through 5th grades about conservation issues around the world.  Usually set up in a school’s auditorium, it’s structured into several stations that operate simultaneously, sort of like a job fair.

"Garbage" Sorting Exercise

Following a brief introduction, the students are divided into groups and led to one of the four awaiting stations where they spend 15 minutes before rotating to the next one.  At the 4R station, the kids learn about sustainable consumption of the world’s resources, and the cycle of resource use. Also known as Reduce, Re-use, Recycle and Rot, this station teaches kids about purchasing power, donating clothes, and recycling light bulbs. They participate in an exercise where they sort “garbage” into different components, and see a mini composting demonstration. At the Rain Forest station, kids will find a festive cave-like umbrella display that they can actually sit inside. Here, they learn about the incredible living ecosystem of the tropical rain forest and get to see and smell some of the many by-products of the forest that we use in our daily

Exploring The Mini Rain Forest

lives, such as chocolate and spices. They also learn about some products whose extraction is destructive to the forest and how we can minimize that damage. What exactly goes on at the H.I.P.P.O. station? No, they don’t bring out a real live hippopotamus. These letters stand for Habitat, Introduced species, Population, Pollution, and Over-consumption– the five main threats to the earth’s wildlife. The kids see puppets and biofacts (animal artifacts such as skulls, bones, snakeskins, etc.) and learn about the impact of fur coats, as well as which other animal products to avoid. The last station offers what the Zoomobile program is best known for: live animals. Here, the kids get to visit with tortoises, snakes, chinchillas and even cool giant millipedes. They learn the difference between domestic and wild species, as well as which animals make good choices for family pets.

During the wrap-up, the kids are asked for feedback to show what they’ve learned, and what they liked best about the presentation. They then watch a rain forest video and later learn about the different things that they can do in their daily lives to help rain forests around the world.

Meeting A Furry Chinchilla

Longtime Zoo docent Harry Santi has seen a lot since he started with CZM. And, he’s noticed a big change in the depth of animal knowledge that kids possess these days. Sometimes, they know the answers before he’s even had the chance to finish the questions. He’s also seen a crazy thing or two in those twenty years, such as the time he got all the way out to Walnut Creek for the presentation before he realized that he’d forgotten to bring the animals! He had to go all the way back to the Zoo to get them.

So if you’re an elementary school teacher or know someone who is and would like to participate in this special educational experience, give the Oakland Zoo a call and get the Conservation ZooMobile to come to your school this year! You can book a Conservation ZooMobile by calling (510) 632-9525, ext 220.

Stepping through ZAM: Day 6, Children’s Zoo Module

by | December 8th, 2011

Franette Armstrong diaries her progress through Zoo Ambassador Training.

Today Sarah showed us her true stripes as the Zoo’s Education Specialist: We focused on how children learn and how to interpret the world of animals for them.

The real job of kids is to learn and the way they learn is to play. There are all kinds of types of play, though, and Sarah took us through everything from the solitary play of babies to the sophisticated world of cooperative play among seven year olds.

The real job of docents in the Children’s Zoo is to encourage kids to learn about animals through play. We can do this by helping them to explore with all their senses.

Learning is child's play.

 

Back out to the Zoo

Most of our day was spent in the Zoo learning from the keepers and experienced docents.

First, the goats introduced themselves while Keeper Chelsea introduced us to the contact yard and took us into the kitten room to meet the three fluffballs there.

It’s nice to know that everywhere in the Zoo animals have a chance to take themselves “off exhibit” when they want a break, but it is especially important in the contact yard. This makes them happy campers when they are out among the children and the kids find a lot of joy in their friendliness. I watched one little girl circle the yard while leaning her full weight against a Nubian Goat. The patient goat managed to stand upright and went along cheerfully with this bonding experience.

Chelsea Williams shows ZAMs how contact yards work.

 

 

Next, it was down to the animal commissary where Keeper Zach took us on a tour of  Food Central—the place where everything that is fed to our residents gets brought in, prepared and disseminated to the keepers. We saw an elephant popsicle in the works, volunteers sorting crates of donated fruit so only fresh, ripe peaches will make it into the food bowls, and freezers packed with everything from whole chickens to fig newtons.

Fig newtons make great Trojan Horses, Zach said, for the vitamin pills nearly all our animals would rather not take.

It is amazing how many stores, organizations and farms donate fresh food to our animals daily. On top of that we buy over $100,000 of hay a year plus everything else—cereals, special zoo diets, meat, nuts, yogurt and other treats including insects and live fish. Every species has its own special diet and there are pages of recipes our commissary staff prepares daily.

Only people-grade food is good enough for our animals.

Role Modeling Interpretation

When we got back to the classroom we were going to learn about the art and science of interpreting exhibits to children and adults, so as a warm-up we were divided into groups so experienced docents could model how they would engage kids with various animals in the Zoo. There are four parts to the formula and, depending the age of the child, sometimes the parent is the audience as much as the kids.

The first docent in my group was Carol Kerbel at the River Otter exhibit. She used a puppet to engage a little girl with her dad and show us the four steps we will learn to cover for every animal.

Step One: Tell an interesting fact about the animal. “Hi, I’m a River Otter,” she said while making the otter puppet talk. “I live on the land and under the water. My special paws help me swim. Can you hold your hand like this? That’s right. That’s how you swim under water. And I have whiskers so I can feel my food when I’m down there.” She let the little girl pet the puppet’s whiskers.

Step Two: Tell what threatens their survival. This girl was very young so Carol said, “The water is my home so I need it to be very clean so I can live in it.” Looking at the dad, she continued. “My cousins, the sea otters are having lots trouble because their home is the ocean and it is getting dirty.”

Docent Carol Kerbel uses a puppet to get her points across.

Step Three: Tell what we can do to help. “You can help me by keeping our rivers and streams clean.” Clearly, this was a message to the dad. “Wash your car in a car wash and don’t use chemicals in your yard because all the soapy water and pesticides go into the rivers and ocean and make my house dirty.”

Step Four: Tell what the Zoo is doing to help. “We pick up our trash because everything on the ground can blow into our creek and go out to the ocean.” The little girl was entranced and asked to hug the otter puppet.

We saw versions of this four-part message at every station. A young man was taught about the size of our bats (the docent used a rope to demonstrate wingspan). We learned more about our pigs, and ended up enjoying the antics of the lemurs, who were being fed.

Interpretation is an Art

Sarah is credentialed by the National Association for Interpretation as a guide and as a trainer of other guides. She had put together a concise summary of an amazing amount of information about interpretation for the last half-hour of class.

It all boils down to making information relevant to any particular audience. That is the best way to help them learn about and remember what they’ve seen. Here’s a sample of a message that might help adults appreciate bats:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homework

Oh no. We knew this was coming, but I didn’t expect it so soon. In addition to the normal homework that will send us into all the Zoo’s websites to gather conservation messages, we have to write the outline of our final presentations.

Each of us is assigned an animal in the Children’s Zoo to discuss for 2-3 minutes. Mine is the Black Tree Monitor which I now will have to pay a visit. I can’t say that I am really excited about this particular animal (why-oh-why couldn’t I have a mammal?) but maybe after I do my research and spend time with it, I will be. Maybe.

Have a great weekend,

Zoo Docents on a Conservation Mission

by | November 29th, 2011

Talking Tiger

Sometime around September of 2010, the docents at the Oakland Zoo began to work on an idea they’d had for quite a while. They were looking for an organized, yet simple way to speak about the subject of conservation. They wanted to have at their disposal short messages about individual species that they could share with the public when they were out in the Zoo. The Volunteer Programs Manager, Lisa O’Dwyer, suggested they form a group to get the job done. So, they created the Docent Conservation Committee.

Using the IUCN and the Oakland Zoo website as primary sources for information, they began to investigate the various issues that affect the species that are represented here at the Zoo. Some of these issues were obvious and easy to understand, such as how deforestation from slash and burn agriculture in the rain forest reduces the amount of space available for wildlife. Other issues were more obscure. For instance, not many people knew that recycling your old cell phones can help wild chimp and gorilla populations. (The mineral coltan, which is found in tropical soils, is one of the raw materials for the electrical components of cell phones; the less of this material to be mined, the less these habitats are disturbed.)

Young Chimpanzee

So with all the necessary information at hand, several of the docents sat down and began working on the conservation messages, eventually creating the first group of thirty, which the Zoo docents have already begun to use. In each case, the idea was to bring to the public’s attention the issues most affecting the species’ survival, many of whom are facing threats from human encroachment. Some of the messages speak of animal welfare: non-animal circus patronage, alternative medicine, and the exotic pet trade. Others deal with species that aren’t endangered themselves, but are closely related to those that are. For example, talking about the habitat needs of African lions helps the public understand the issues that face local predators such as pumas. In the same way, discussing the conservation issues that are faced by vultures throughout the world help people understand the plight of the highly endangered California condor.

Endangered Sun Bear

But how do you get past the talking phase? How do you get the public to act? Scientists and activist organizations have been talking about conservation for so long: Save the Whales, Save the Redwoods, Save the Baby Seals. The calls for help seem to come from every quarter; it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, even apathetic. People often think, “What can I possibly do? What difference can one person make?” But as history has shown, sometimes the biggest changes have started in the smallest ways. Docents, as grassroots ambassadors for the Zoo, are particularly well-suited for this type of campaign. For example, by suggesting to Zoo visitors that purchasing a handcrafted gift in the Zoo gift shop can help support indigenous people from the rain forest who might otherwise turn to poaching to feed their families, docents are able to help people take those important first steps. In doing so, visitors can leave the Zoo feeling that they’re doing something to help, even in a small way.

Making a Connection

The Docent Conservation Committee is still in its infancy; there’s plenty of room to grow and evolve. But so far, it’s been able to make progress in the field of wildlife conservation right here at the Oakland Zoo. So the next time you visit the Zoo, take a moment to speak to the docents. They’d love to chat with you, and you may find that it’s easier to start saving the world than you thought!

To learn more about conservation efforts you can help, Click Here.

 

The Launch of a Zoo Evolution: Quarters for Conservation!

by | August 18th, 2011

Visiting the Oakland Zoo may bring you a number of positive feelings. The feeling of connection when you spend time with family and friends, the feeling of awe when you learn about animals and their amazing adaptations, or the feeling of wonder when you gaze at a gorgeous elephant or tiger, but starting on August 19th, a new feeling should come over all our visitors: pride.

That is because of our new initiative, Quarters for Conservation. Each time a guest now visits the zoo, a twenty five cent conservation donation will be contributed in support of several Oakland Zoo conservation projects. With thousands of visitors each year, these quarters add up to a significant increase in the zoos capacity to support animals and habitats in the wild. Our slogan, “Saving Wildlife with Each Visit” about sums it up.

Guests will even determine where the funding goes. When you enter the zoo, you will be given a token. This token can be taken to the conservation voting station in Flamingo Plaza and used to “vote for” a conservation project that inspires you. Quarters are also accepted.

This year, you can vote to:

Help protect chimpanzees in Uganda through the Budongo Snare Removal Project. This project provides a solution to poaching by sponsoring forest guards, snare removers and educators, and by offering nanny goats to ex- poachers as an alternative source of food and income.

Help conserve African elephants in Kenya, through the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. This renowned program is aimed at increasing our knowledge of African elephants and ensuring their long-term conservation. Through their efforts, every elephant in Amboseli National Park has been identified, named, and studied.

Help keep the California condor alive and in the wild through the Ventana Wildlife Society Condor Project. This innovative project collects thin-shelled eggs laid by ill condors, and replaces them with viable captive-bred eggs, treats lead-poisoned birds, and monitors the safety and health of each condor through radio telemetry.

These projects will be featured until summer 2012, when three new projects will be chosen

As a community, we have a great power to not only enjoy the zoo and learn from the animals, but to genuinely help their plight in the wild. Quarters for Conservation represents a true shift in the ways zoos see themselves, and the way the public is beginning to view zoos; as true institutions for conservation action. Engaging you, the zoo visitor, in this evolution is very exciting.

Ready to change the world?

ZooKids On The Block

by | March 24th, 2011

Fun With Costumes

Now serving 4 and 5 year olds! After a two-year hiatus, the Oakland Zoo’s popular ZooKids program is back in action. If you’re looking for a fun activity for your four or five year old child, why not bring them to the Oakland Zoo for a Saturday morning they’re sure to enjoy. Twice a month from September through May, the Zoo offers these three-hour programs that combine fun and learning with animal themed activities led by our enthusiastic docent staff and education specialists.

Learning About Reptiles

Whether indoors or out, the program always involves a topic of the day, such as Harvesters and Hibernators or Tongues and Tails. This theme is echoed throughout the morning in a variety of activities such as a fun craft, game, or musical activity.

Hearing A Story

The program might begin with exploration time in the Education Department, where your child will find books and puzzles, animal costumes, and a variety of “biofacts” to learn about. On other occasions, class might begin in the great outdoors with a mini hike in the Zoo.

Creative Playtime

A small snack is provided before resuming the fun which includes story time and an “animal close-up,” where your child gets to meet and touch one of our Education Department’s animals such as a hedgehog, parrot, snake or a millipede.

So, if your 4 or 5 year old has an interest in learning about animals in an entertaining environment, check out the ZooKids program now happening two Saturday mornings a month at the Oakland Zoo. To learn more about ZooKids events, visit the Calendar section of the Oakland Zoo website, under “News”.   See you there!