Why do camps require campers work with and attempt to resolve actual challenges faced by Denver Zoo keepers and animals?
We want to provide children real and meaningful challenges -- and what better challenges than ones we actually face? This helps provide some insider information to the children as they discover how much goes into providing the incredible level of care Denver Zoo commits to. Additionally, the campers get to experience science in action and do the same types of things that keepers, vets, and Denver Zoo staff do. This method helps your children build critical thinking and problem solving skills in the real world. More importantly, this approach gives campers the chance to really get to know animals personally and build empathy for Denver Zoo's residents in a way that is not yet possible through a typical zoo visit.
Why did Denver Zoo decide to move to an inquiry-based model for its Mini-Camps?
In the Denver Zoo Learning Experiences Department, we place great value on designing and implementing programs that reflect best practices in teaching and learning. This means a reflective approach to assessing our existing programs as well, where we consistently seek opportunities to revise and move the bar that much higher. We are deeply influenced by research into inquiry, constructivist learning, and the power of learner-driven experiences. We knew our campers loved attending our Mini-Camps, and we're confident they walked away with some real inspiration. But we saw Mini-Camps as a perfect opportunity to open up the learning even more to students -- to provide genuine experiences for children to let their curiosity drive their learning. A supportive camp setting can be an ideal space for genuine inquiry. And so we are super excited to see what our Mini-Camp's young learners come up with this season.
What are the benefits of this type of education?
We know from the research that student-driven learning is the most impactful for genuine learning, for long-term knowledge and skill retention and growth. When we utilize inquiry in our programming, students have the opportunity to experience an authentic scientific process -- from observation and questioning to making predictions and constructing means to seek answers. This is real science, and much more powerful for students than memorizing a simplistic scientific method, the way old-fashioned classrooms used to have them do.
Why does Denver Zoo focus on education instead of just animal welfare?
At Denver Zoo, our mission is inspiring communities to save wildlife for future generations. And while we pride ourselves on our world-class animal care and husbandry, we also recognize the enormous task in impacting human understanding about animals, the environment and our relationship to both. Denver Zoo's education programs are a terrific opportunity for us to inform and inspire new generations of environmental stewards and scientifically literate citizens.
What does all of this mean?
Inquiry-based means the campers will be investigating, searching, and solving problems. They will seek answers or information and use their critical thinking skills to gather data, use their senses to make observations, problem-solve, engineer solutions, and build a deeper understanding. Student-driven means that while staff will still be facilitating the programs, the direction in which the learning goes really depends on the campers – they will be using their own interests and passion to drive their experiences. This allows campers to construct a better grasp a broader understanding of the zoo, animals, the environment, and their connections to the larger world.
So what would my child do in a Mini-Camp?
It will be different for each group, based on the specific challenge being explored, age of the group, interests of the campers, and more. Instead of instructors sharing facts or telling the campers information, the instructor will ask questions and guide campers to discover the answers. When out in the zoo, campers will make observations and gather information to help them solve their challenge and engage in scientific arguments from evidence. Campers will have more time to more fully examine and explore their challenge, the zoo, experience animals up-close, and synthesize their learning through nature play and engineering solutions.
How is this different than Mini-Camps from years past?
Campers will be learning through doing and have more of say in how and what they learn. A typical day would see campers use everything they do that day, from zoo exploration and animal experiences to design blocks and group time, to solve their daily challenge. If something is constructed and sent home, it will be something the camper felt he or she needed to build in order to solve their given challenge. If your camper brings something home, ask them to tell you about it!