ZSL London Zoo gets top marks for education

From: ZSL London Zoo
Published: Wed Aug 25 2010

ZSL London Zoo was the subject of an independent pilot study carried out by Dr Brady Wagoner of Aalborg University and Dr Eric Jensen of the University of Warwick, to research the effect, if any, zoos have on children and their education. The findings proved that children who visited the Zoo developed a new and deeper understanding of wildlife and are published today in the journal, Psychology and Society.

The report, Science Learning at the Zoo: Evaluating Children’s Developing Understanding of Animals and their Habitats, focussed on children taking part in ZSL London Zoo’s formal learning programme, and was targeted at Key Stage Two pupils. It’s the first time such a study has ever been undertaken at a zoo.

The children, aged between nine and 11, were asked to draw pictures of animals in their habitats at the beginning of their Zoo visit and class session, and then complete the same task directly afterwards.

The results showed clear developments in the pupils’ understanding of the species they’d studied, following a visit to the Zoo’s exhibits and participation in a Zoo lesson, with meerkats ‘moving’ from forest homes to desert dwellings and jaguars gaining their spotted coats after appearing without them in the original drawings.

Interestingly, the report also flagged up the influence of cultural resources, such as the mass media, on children’s knowledge of wildlife, with one key example being sloths. Originally being drawn in icy habitats, which children noted they’d seen in the Hollywood movie, Ice Age, the students then depicted the sloths hanging upside down in a more accurate rainforest setting after attending the Zoo’s education session in the Rainforest Life exhibit.

Study co-author, Dr Eric Jensen said: "It is clear from the primary school pupils’ drawings that they have developed a greater knowledge of animals in their habitats as a result of participating in ZSL London Zoo’s educational activities".

Zoological Director David Field added: "Here at the Zoological Society of London, we’ve always believed in the power of the zoo to educate our visitors, be they school students or here on a family day out and these findings support that. We’re extremely proud of our education programmes and hope to continue to inspire and educate children for generations to come".

Ongoing studies into the impact of Zoo visits on children’s understanding of wildlife are being carried out, to further identify the key effects of learning within the unique learning environment of a Zoo. The findings will be published later on this year.

ZSL London Zoo welcomes approximately 120,000 school children through its gates each year, with around 90,000 of those receiving free school visits through funding provided by the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority (GLA).


Editors Notes

For more information, please contact Rebecca Smith on 0207 449 6236 or email rebecca.smith@zsl.org.

Interviews with study co-author, Dr Eric Jensen, and Zoological Director of ZSL London Zoo available on request.

Full report and high resolution images available on request.

The report, Science Learning at the Zoo: Evaluating Children’s Developing Understanding of Animals and their Habitats, was carried out by Dr Eric Jenson, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick and Dr Brady Wagoner, Associate Professor at the department of Communication and Psychology at Aalborg University in Denmark.

The study investigated the development of new ideas about animals, habitats and the zoo amongst a sample of pupils attending ZSL London Zoo. While there has been previous evidence of positive outcomes for adult zoo visitors (Wagoner and Jensen, pg 1, 2010) there has been very little prior research on the implications for children.

The study was conducted using a mixed methods survey, which included a key visual component (the children’s drawings with labels) designed to track changes in children’s representations of animals over the course of a school visit to the Zoo.

Primary School pupils age 9 – 11 from two schools were recruited for the study on 2 April 2009. Twenty-seven pupils from one London state primary school and 55 from another received the meerkat and sloth questionnaire, while the remaining 28 from a third state primary school received the camel and jaguar questionnaire.

The study focussed on one particular lesson plan at the Zoo, ‘Desert and Rainforest’ which is a lesson devoted to teaching about animals’ adaptations to their habitats.

The session is led by a ZSL London Zoo education officer in a classroom within the Zoo’s Rainforest Life exhibit. Pupils will have seen other parts of the Zoo before and after the visit.

Mayor of London/Greater London Authority
The Mayor of London is supporting state schools in the capital through funding free visits to ZSL London Zoo and subsidising ZSL’s new Outreach programme to schools.
ZSL’s Outreach programme allows ZSL to visit London state schools and provide an interactive lesson in the classroom. For more information visit http://www.zsl.org/education

Rainforest Life
See animals in a different light at Rainforest Life, ZSL London Zoo’s exciting new experience in Clore Rainforest Lookout. Enter London’s only living rainforest where you’ll come face to face with a variety of amazing rainforest species including monkeys, sloth, armadillo and tamandua. Step out of the light and into the amazing Night Life experience, where you’ll discover the bats, rats and nocturnal wonders that call the dark their home.

ZSL London Zoo
ZSL London Zoo is run by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Founded in 1826, ZSL is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: the key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in other countries worldwide. For further information please visit http://www.zsl.org

Company: ZSL London Zoo
Contact Name: Rebecca Smith
Contact Email: rebecca.smith@zsl.org
Contact Phone: 0207 449 6236

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