On your next visit to Como, don’t be surprised if you run into a second grade scientist identifying rainforest plants in Tropical Encounters, or a third-grade field researcher observing polar bears in the Arctic tundra.
They’re all part of Como’s new Residency Programs, which kicked off a second season this fall, bringing more than 600 area elementary school students to Como for a full week of immersive conservation education. Launched last year with funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and augmented with private support from Como Friends, this innovative new program is already a hit with students, teachers, and parents who tell us it’s helping kids connect the dots between people, plants and animals. Here’s a look at how it works:
Area teachers come to Como for a special summer training session to find out what to expect when their students relocate to Como for a full week of cross-disciplinary learning. Teachers tell us they love the chance to connect and collaborate with Como’s own education specialists who direct most of the day’s Residency Program lessons: “I learned just as much as my students! To learn alongside them added to the adventure and camaraderie,” said one teacher.
Did You Know?
- Como’s new Residency Program is completely free for area schools thanks to a grant from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and private funds through Como Friends.
- Every year, Como welcomes field trip student from more than 60 Minnesota counties.
- With free environmental programs that reach more than 600,000 kids and adults every year, Como is Minnesota’s biggest conservation classroom.
Door to Door Service:
A colorful Como bus arrives every day during the Residency Program to shuttle students from school grounds to Como for a full-day of super-charged field trip learning. Last year, 633 students, 161 parent chaperones, and 64 educators took part in the program. One second-grader told us, “When I first got onto the Como bus, I was WOWED!”
Learning to Think Like a Scientist:
Taking notes as polar bears play, comparing and contrasting plant characteristics, and considering life from the different points of view of predators and prey are all part of a typical day for Residency Program students. “We talk a lot about observation, and how that fits into the scientific method,” says Sarah Olson, residency coordinator. When they arrive, all students take a pre-test to find out how much they already know, then head out on a scavenger hunt through the grounds of the Como Zoo and the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory “so they can see everything that we’re going to learn about over the next week.”
Every day, Residency Program kids weigh their lunchroom waste and are challenged to cut down on their carbon footprint by recycling, composting, avoiding unnecessary packaging and even eating that extra bite of apple. “One classroom actually got their lunch down to less than two pounds,” Olson reports. “That’s pretty impressive.”
Monkey See, Monkey Do?:
One popular lesson plan takes students to the Primate Building, where they observe spider monkeys, make a hypothesis to predict how the animals will respond to enrichment items, then watch what the monkeys actually do. “I have noticed my students talking about the Como program even now that we’re back to school,” one teacher told us. “My students are able to use scientific language in everyday conversations.”
You make a difference:
Your support for Como Friends has been critical to helping this cutting-edge conservation education program grow by providing Como’s talented team of education specialists the resources, classroom materials, and support necessary to provide this new program to the schools that depend on Como’s free admission. “This week was an absolute blast,” one grateful teacher told us. “It was so engaging and students learned so much. This will be an experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives. I still have students saying, ‘I wish we could go back to Como Zoo.’”