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Back to School? No Problem!

The term 'Back to School' doesn’t have to mean learning about animals and nature has to stop because it can keep on going, even in the classroom.

It's that time of the year again when the kids have a brand new set of supplies that they are going to need for another year of school, teachers getting back on the job after a summer of vacations and workshops and so on. This also includes new lessons that the kids are going to be learning that may not always involve the basics like language arts and mathematics. They may involve science, history, geography, and bits of animal science. Yes, that's right, animal science as in introducing students to the science of zoology and environmental science. The best part about introducing kids to this exciting topic is that it does not have to take place in a classroom at all, but it can be anywhere, like on a beach, a nature trail, a zoo, an aquarium, a wildlife refuge, and even a museum. However, if you feel that you need to add a little bit of "nature" to the classroom, you can always invite a keeper to do a live animal presentation at school. So, here are some ways on how to bring "the wild" into the classroom during the school year.

1. Book a school field trip to a zoo or aquarium.

A school field trip to a zoo or aquariums is probably one of the best ways students can learn about all of the wonders of the natural world. Experiences that zoos and aquariums offer to teachers seeking to plan day-long school field trips may range from behind the scenes tours, to in-facility animal encounters with certain species such as parrots, seals, dolphins, elephants, giraffes, and reptiles. In fact, many of these facilities are dedicated to promoting wildlife stewardship through conservation education. According to a 2016 report by the American Zoological Association, zoos and aquariums in the United States have established more than 90 million audience driven engagements that resulted in the contribution of 21,500 wildlife educators, volunteers, and interns serve 2 million hours of service in the name of conservation education. On average, these programs reach 111 million members of the audience nationwide. Many of these programs come in the form of animal encounters, behind-the-scenes tours, after-school programs, camps, lectures, overnight programs, and teacher workshops. Check your local zoo or aquarium to see what kinds of programs they offer for school field trips.

2. Bring a wildlife encounter to your school.

If your school is on a budget that is only limited to funding few out-of-school field trips, then there is always an in-school field trip that costs less than $1 per student and involves live, interactive presentations with students that are presented by zoo professionals who are specialized in animal care and wildlife education. These presentations enable students to learn about and connect with the lessons of life, science, conservation, and sustainability. To learn more about how to bring live animal presentations to your school, visit Wildlife Encounters or Capitol Int.

3. Plan a whale watch.

For teachers who teach at schools that are close to coastal areas, a whale watch might be the best educational field trip that money can buy. Whale watches enable students of all grade levels to see wild and endangered animals in their natural habitat. The fact that the animals that the students would get to see are whales, make the field trip even better. These trips offer school groups a chance to learn about the local marine ecosystem directly from the naturalists who have been studying whales and other marine mammals for a very long time and bring the students out to areas where whales feed and raise their calves. Trips usually run anywhere for two to four hours depending on the charter.

4. Skype an Expert.

If you are unable to make field trip arrangements for your class, then it does not hurt to look into skyping an animal expert to carry out a lecture with your students on wildlife, conservation, and the environment. These experts will spend an hour or two lecturing to students about animals, wildlife conservation, the environment, ecosystems, and how they can be true stewards of an ever-changing world. During these lectures, the experts will enable students to ask them questions about what they know as they develop an understanding of nature in the process without ever leaving the classroom. These experts can range from zoo professionals, marine mammal trainers, naturalists, zoologists, marine biologists, veterinarians, animal behavior specialists, and researchers.

5. Build a 'backyard' habitat on school property.

For teachers who really want to promote environmental stewardship among their students, it does not hurt to encourage students to build their very own "backyard" habitat on school property. This may involve planting trees, flowers, and vegetables for insects to pollinate and birds and various species of rodents to make homes out of. In addition, encouraging students to build their very own birdhouses can provide a place for local wild birds to build nests, store food, and raise their young throughout the year while promoting stewardship of the local ecosystem among the students. Please be sure you first get permission from school officials before going through with such a project.

6. Learn about how research works.

For those science teachers who really want their students to learn how wildlife research works, creating curriculum-based activities based around wildlife research can encourage students to begin to connect with nature and observe animal behavior in a wild setting. These observations are key components are very true to any study that is being conducted on wild populations. For example, if your focus is for students to learn about research that is done on wild bird populations, the first thing that you, the teacher, should do is to bring the students outside for at least 15-30 minutes and have them observe the local birds in their own backyard. Have them bring their own pencils, notebooks, and smartphones (to take pictures of the birds they have sighted for identification purposes). Be sure you bring along extra binoculars and an identification guide on the local birds in your area to help your students identify the animals they have recorded. The rest of the curriculum focuses on learning about the natural history of migratory birds, collecting data on bird behavior, and building feeders to provide birds food and shelter all-year round.

7. Adopt an animal.

Adopting an animal through a non-profit, zoo, or aquarium can totally encourage students to develop an appreciating of not only the individual animal that their entire class adopted but also, the plight of their species out in the wild as well. It can also encourage teachers to develop brand new lesson plans for their students based on their adopted animal. Classroom animal adoptions not only come with the basic adoption package for when someone adopts an animal, because they also come with a variety of activities and handouts for students to work on during daily lessons that are aimed at raising awareness of the species that their class has adopted and promoted stewardship of the environment and the ecosystem.

I hope these learning plans will help teachers be able to make wildlife stewards out of their own students this school year and if you like this article, come and check out my other work on Vocal where you can feel free to leave me a tip. You can also request me to do a wildlife-related topic through Patreon for as little as a dollar a month. Anyway, thanks for reading.

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