The mission of Zoo Academy is to provide students with knowledge and career explorations relating to life sciences through authentic STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) experiences at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. Zoo Academy is an excellent model of forming successful collaborations between an informal science education organization and school districts.
Zoo Academy started in 1996 as a simple partnership between Omaha’s Zoo & Aquarium and Omaha Public Schools (OPS). This partnership was established through an agreement to share resources. The school district provided a full-time biology teacher to teach zoology on zoo grounds and the Zoo provided classroom space and access to professionals for the zoology course. The Zoo and OPS began to see how the collaboration developed the skills students needed to become successful in STEM career pathways.
In 2009, Omaha’s Zoo & Aquarium, Omaha Public Schools, and Papillion LaVista Community Schools formed a partnership to develop a full day Zoo Academy program. Together the Zoo and school districts developed a high school career academy model that included zoo specific curriculum, job shadowing in zoo career fields, opportunities to conduct scientific studies in conservation research labs, and the development of a student selection process.
This innovative high school program is an effective, non-traditional teaching model for science education, that brings together all the components of Nebraska’s College and Career Ready Standards for Science (CCR-Science). This unique combination of the CCR-Science and student experiences establishes a rich STEM learning environment where students can make discoveries about the natural world and apply the knowledge gained to real-world situations.
The Zoo Academy concept is a combination of three major educational components: career exploration, classroom experiences, and scientific processes through research opportunities. These three components create a new learning adventure for the teachers, students, and zoo staff daily.
The academy consists of one social studies, one math, one English, and two science teachers. These teachers collaborate with Zoo staff to provide a rich inquiry-based classroom environment for students. The teachers plan curriculum goals around relevant inquiry-based zoo experiences. Utilizing the Zoo’s staff and animal collection, leads to a variety of learning enrichment opportunities for the students.
School District Benefits:
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium Benefits: