I have posted previously on the foundation’s support for non-formal science and art education programs and their role in education. Today I had the priviledge of visiting the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo buided by one of its most impressive Directors, Liz Fowler. Liz is one of those rare and inspirational directors whose love for the organization is infectious. The Nord Family Foundation provided a grant several years ago to support a Distance Education program when distance education was still on dial-up networks. I was really pleased and stunned to see how far this museum has come in developing quality broadcast of its distance education programming. While I was there today, I learned about the plans for the Zoo to expand its space but also its education programs for the Elephants. There is a cool video about the Plans for Elephants. As I toured the facility I had the opportunity to meet the staff at the Zoo’s Hospital and their office with links to the Ohio State School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Lewandoski provided me with a tour of the surgery unit for animals. The zoo provides window in the surgery units that allow any child an opportunity to view the procedure. An interpreter provides and explanation of what is happening during the operation. Interestingly, the zoo staff rigged a webcam to one of the overhead lights allowing a webcam to broadcast the event as the Vet see it. At this time, the broadcast takes place internally.
As I moved I watched zoo education staff provide animated lessons about animal science to classes of children from some of Cleveland’s inner city schools. The children were completely engaged with the lectures that were accompanied with hands-on experiences. As I watched I wondered what would happen after the students returned to their classrooms. Was there anyway to follow-up to keep the student’s engagement with the teacher and/or subject matter alive? Did the students have portfolios or an opportunity to write about what they saw, to use blogs? I met staff who are profoundly knowledgable in their subject area and they exude excitment about science and animals. Did the zoo use blogs to allow these people to keep touch with any of the students through a blog? As I watched these experts, I looked at the teachers who sat at the back of the room who were also enjoying the subject matter. Did the zoo open it’s curriculum to these teachers so the teachers could use a wiki to shape their own science programming and allow these “expert” to become co-teachers on the child’s learning process. The answer was no. The zoo simply does not have these tools. The majority of teachers do not know how to use them.
What a waste of resources. At a time when the schools are pushing for innovation, the resources are lying all around us. The State school system lacks a coherent strategy for linking the many tools that are available right now, to the many many resources and expertise of institutions such as the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, The Great Lakes Science Center, The Lake Erie Nature and Science Center and many others like it just in the Cleveland area. How many other institutions of this type across the country are underutilzed simply because the State’s do not know how to adequatly train teachers on use of something as relatively simple as the suite of services available through Google for Educators. How much philanthropic funding supports these programs year-after-year without providing the tools to bring these resources into the core of learning in public schools.
A place like the Cleveland Zoo is a place where K-12 educators, as well as Colleges and Universities focus on science and can introduce young people to biology, animal sciences, chemisty and math….all in one place. The educators I have met at these institutions are more than willing to join in developing curriculum through an effort of collective knowledge. I am particularly excited about this concept having listened in part to a conference called Program for the Future One of the most compelling presentations was by Thomas Malone from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. This slide show on Collective Intelligence points the way for people who are trying to figure out what P-16 councils can really mean for igniting educational achievement in their communities.