In the coming years, elementary-school classes from all over Indiana will take field trips to the Indianapolis Zoo to see the orangutans in the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, which opened May 24.
They might study about deforestation and how it affects the apes. Or simulate living like an orangutan. Or play a game of Orangutan Twister.
“The lesson plans cover math, language arts, science, social studies, art, and lots of kinesthetic movement,” said Associate Professor Catherine Pangan, whose class of junior-year elementary education majors devised the activities. “This is all about students at the center of the learning and hands-on experiences, and that mirrors the philosophy in the College of Education—to get kids excited and curious and doing things that have a real-life impact. Their knowledge goes so much deeper, and they’ll want to know more later. It really promotes lifelong learning.”
Butler began to get involved with the orangutan exhibit in late 2013, when Michele Schilten, the Director of Education at Indianapolis Zoological Society, talked to Pangan about a potential collaboration. In April, Pangan’s students went to the zoo for an information session about orangutans. They researched background information about the apes and went through training with one of the zoo’s experts.
“They told us what they were thinking about and looking for,” Pangan said, “and our students designed lesson plans that are hands-on activities for the classroom that teachers can take back to the classroom either before or after they visit the exhibit.”
The Butler students broke into groups of two or three, and designed a dozen lessons suitable for elementary school students. A typical plan includes a week’s worth of activities, as well as spelling out learning objectives and explaining how the activities fit into Indiana’s academic standards. Students will be taught related vocabulary and do readings and assignments.
The zoo describes the new permanent exhibit, which is home to eight orangutans, as a place that serves as a vital education, research, and conservation center where dedicated staff and community members can work together to create a positive future for critically endangered orangutans in the wild.
For Butler’s elementary education students, it’s been a chance to show their creativity in making a visit to the zoo not only fun but educational.
“We are modeling ways that museums and schools can work together to debunk the concept of a one-shot experience field trip and instead do something with greater purpose and intention over time,” Pangan said. “It is a win-win for both the school community and community resource.”