During a recent snow day, my five-year-old daughter started drawing the panda on her magna-doodle. Pretty soon she was transforming the original drawing ideas into a "dancing panda," adding bamboo for it to eat, and asking questions about pandas. So of course, I did a google search about pandas and stumbled across a few live panda cam sources.
When students visit the station, they are encouraged to think like a biologist. Each has their own field journal: handmade with paper folded in half and stapled, or a simple spiral or composition notebook. If you work in a technology enriched school or classroom, students can create digital field journals.
In addition to the panda, the San Diego Zoo also has live cams for koala bears, polar bears, orangutans, elephants, and condors. Below each live cam, students can link to a "learn more about..." page and a blog page, with current news about the animals they are studying. Easy-to-draw instructions for many animals are all over the web, and having a few "I Can Draw..." books will provide more complex options for students who are ready.
Students can compare notes, ask questions, and make hypotheses about the animals they study. They can return to the live cams over many days or at different times to note any changes or patterns they see. These activities are a great beginning to independent research projects, and help students continue to engage in learning beyond the classroom walls without having to take a field trip. Other extensions would be to role play as a zookeeper or animal expert, answering questions from classmates based on their observations, or creating a video or podcast about a specific animal.
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