Virtual field trip to the Buffalo Zoo, and more

What if you could work with zookeepers on experiments that benefit animals' quality of life? What if you could do this in real time?
What if you could do this right from a classroom in Otselic Valley and see the outcome of your experiment as it unfolded?  
 
Wait, it gets even better.
 
What if you could send a gift to animals at the Buffalo Zoo and watch the very moment when they saw their presents? (Spoiler: they loved it!)

Last month Ms. Mashlykin's class and Virtual Field Trip Coordinator Jenny Osowski worked with students on a very special project coordinated with educators at the Buffalo Zoo. The students considered a question: What kind of enrichment--those activities that keep animals healthy and engaged--would be good for Arctic foxes and gorillas and turtles? Then they did their research, made suggestions to the zookeepers who made sure their ideas were okay for animals, and made a date to see their recommendations in action.

Although students were in the comfort of the warm classroom, they were connected through live video to an Arctic fox habitat where they could see whether the snowy white animal liked having bones around.  Not only did the fox handle the bones, but students and the educator observed something new: foxes use snouts to dig, not just paws.
 
Then it was time to view the Gorilla House where staff unrolled a huge window hanging comprising student artwork. In real time, Vikings saw the youngest gorillas notice the color, leap onto the ledge to get closer to the paintings, then press their faces to the glass to see more closely. The zookeepers were interested too: they kept watch from the other side of the glass, took video of the gorillas' behavior, and invited other zoo vistors to have a look.
 
Finally students were asked to predict a food choice for a healthy, long-lived turtle who lives at the zoo: will it be a squirmy live worm or a bright orange piece of crispy sweet potato?  (Check out the picture in the photo gallery below to see its choice.)
 
Throughout this rich, surprising, animal-filled morning, a Buffalo Zoo educator worked directly with students by asking and answering questions. Cameras used in virtual field trips allow educators working remotely to also see our classroom, notice students, and communicate with them personally. 
 
This was just one of many virtual field trips that have been coordinated by OV's own Mrs. Jenny Osowski.

"My role as Virtual Field Trip Coordinator is to find opportunities for students to bring relevance to what they have learned with application of concepts and ideas," Mrs. Osowski explained.  I presented our Virtual Field Trip Program at the annual NYSCATE (New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education) conference in November. Participants were surprised that such a small school could offer so much to their students. 
 
"We have been doing Virtual Field Trips (VFTs) for three years. There are trips for all grade levels and content areas. Although some of the trips are free, most have a cost that is paid for as part of our BOCES services. We use Skype and the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC) to set up the trips.  Each year more teachers have taken advantage of these opportunities - there are trips available for all grades and content areas. We have been offering the trips for 3 years and each year increase the number of trips. This year we introduced the Mystery Skype - classes play 20 questions with another class to guess locations. It helps students to work on geography, critical thinking, and public speaking skills. Kids love them! 

Although we have taken trips to South Africa, Kenya, and Canada,  the majority of trips are to locations in the United States - this year we have gone to locations in Arkansas, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Washington, Alaska, South Carolina, New York, and more!"

In December and January alone, a range of grade-appropriate trips were scheduled: 
  • Reindeer Tails - Alaska Zoo.  Students  learn about reindeer and their cousins the caribou.
  • Boston Tea Party - Boston Museum.  Students take part in the trial for soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre by taking roles and determining the soldier fate.
  • Animal Enrichment - Buffalo Zoo. Students research several animals and suggest ideas for enrichment to help animals to be active at the zoo
  • Holiday Bear - Chat with the Author - Montana. Students read a story and learn about bears in hibernation.
  • Ecology Lab - Missouri. Students complete a lab with owl pellets to learn about the food chain.
  • Human Impact on Ecosystems - Ontario, Canada. Students  investigate the human impact on wetlands and how it changes the environment for all.
  • Mystery Skype - Michigan (students are now pen pals!) .

"Last year we did trips with Smithsonian, Yellowstone National Park, NASA .... so many cool things!" added Mrs. Osowski.

No access to costly, time-consuming, transcontinental transportation? No problem! Virtual field trips take down barriers to distant experiences, and are presented so that students are not passive viewers but full participants. 

It's the 21st Century at Otselic Valley Central Schools.

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