Saturday, October 9, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Meerkats Oh My!

This week I had an appointment at Houston Medical Center. I took along one of my favorite running buddies, our inimitable department secretary Rebecca Lewis. We departed early and treated ourselves to a trip to the Houston Zoo! Visiting the zoo is a favorite pastime of mine and if I lived closer I would have a membership. It is a place to forget troubles, deadlines, and frustrations and enjoy the moment. I have always been proud of the Houston Zoo and if you have not been lately, great things are going on. I was last there several months ago, but still saw some new improvements this time. Rebecca had not been in years, and was wowed by the growth and beauty. Another point of pride is that the zoo is right next to the medical center. I know it provides respite and diversion for patients of all ages.

One thing I was especially happy to see was the number of school groups there. With current budget cuts, I know that field trips are as endangered as some of the zoo's denizens. I should hasten to add that I LOVE virtual field trips. I have presented about their value at conferences and have some great links to share at my wiki:

This guy is standing watch, scanning the sky so his buddies can relax for a while. According to the zoo docent, if the guard scrambles down from his perch as if running for safety, all other meerkats disappear in a flash.

Zoos would be top of my list for places where kids need to be loaded onto buses and taken in groups. The kids I saw were not only enjoying the animals, but benefiting from guidance from their teachers and sharing their reactions with classmates. 

As Rebecca and I moved along, we kept pace with one particular group of young teens. I could not help but notice their enthusiasm and how closely they were looking at everything--not just the animals but also the surroundings in general. Next I tried to single out their teacher. She was not standing at the head of a line and barking out orders, but she was very much in control. Although she was young and some of the boys were a head taller, she was easy to pick out. She was the one moving kids along, pointing out details, and answering their questions. The next thing I noticed was that every kid had a camera. And some of them had high end Nikon and Pentax digital cams. Aha, I thought...this must be a photography class! (I am good at recognizing the obvious). 

Finally I caught the teacher between kid conversations and asked her about her class. These kids were from a new school in Spring ISD, Roberson Junior High, A Math, Science, and Fine Arts Academy. What a great place it must be! I am proud to say that a past student and present friend is librarian there. I know Charlotte Ballard is another bright light at that school. Anyway, this teacher explained that her photography students were indeed using school-owned cameras along with their own, and that Spring ISD has NOT given up on field trips. She went on to describe their curriculum with great enthusiasm and share that she had developed it all herself. 

I cannot say that I have ever seen a better behaved group of boys and girls (I have seen others who were AS GOOD, but none better.) I did not see one eye roll or bored expression. They were on a mission, or rather a couple of missions. Of course they were photographing the animals. In addition to that, they were looking for letters of the alphabet that they could find in natural surroundings. Their pictures will be shared on the school web site and I am looking forward to seeing them.  Every few steps someone would exclaim, "here's an "H' or "P'" and so on. Rebecca and I started looking for letters too--this activity is irresistible when everybody else is doing it. I mentioned the alphabet project that had been done years ago in New York City and my new friend replied "Oh yes! That's where I got the idea!" I have not been able to find the original site with the NYC letters, but here is another one that illustrates the idea: 
I know an alphabet photo collection is not a new idea, but if you have not tried it, I can attest to its success. I actually tried it myself with some kids back in the late 90's. It is not necessary to go on a trip to conduct this kind of search, in fact some teachers have done it 100% indoors around their schools.  Visiting with these kids and their teacher, along with getting to see all the wondrous creatures on a beautiful Texas fall day was truly a memorable experience. All zoo trips are memorable. Long may they prosper in our schools!

PS As an afterthought, I wonder if a virtual alphabet search using Creative Commons photos might be fun on a cold, rainy day...

1 comment:

  1. I love the zoo too!! When I taught PreK that was my fieldtrip destination every spring. One trip was particularly memorable when one of my students turned around to me after gazing intently at some goats and said, "Mrs. Byrd, where's the troll?" It was priceless, he thought he had found the Billy Goats Gruff and all their friends!! Out of the mouths of babes...