One of the primary goals of the Conservation Education Division (or Con Ed, as we call it) is to connect students and teachers to wildlife by connecting them to conservation science. Con Ed has the state-of-the-art Conservation Education Laboratory, which is located inside the San Diego Zoo’s Beckman Center for Conservation Research, adjacent to the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. The lab contains various scientific tools and equipment that allow the students to have a truly hands-on experience learning about conservation science.
The Con Ed staff meets with more than 600 students per month, covering all ages, from kindergarteners all the way up through college students. The students get to tour the Beckman Center, see all of the various laboratories, and meet our scientists as they’re actively engaged in ongoing research projects. They then spend some time in the education lab conducting experiments and learning about science in a fun, informal setting. The Con Ed staff does an amazing job of providing a conservation science experience to diverse student populations in an attempt to improve conservation literacy and creatively showcase our programs and approaches.So, as part of an in-house professional development opportunity, I am working with the Con Ed staff to create an education module focusing on giant panda research that could be used in the education lab on a regular basis. We are working together, utilizing my knowledge of giant panda research, to create an education curriculum that will, I hope, get the kids excited about what can be accomplished through conservation science.
Through our research, we’ve learned a great deal about giant pandas over the past 12 years; the challenge is to create a module that will encapsulate all of our techniques and information into something that will both teach and inspire the kids. We’re hoping that we can teach the students about using a multidisciplinary approach to conservation science, as we’ve done with our giant panda research program, as a very effective technique for tackling a complicated research problem. We’re still in the beginning stages, but I’m excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the Con Ed staff and share our message of conservation.
Education outreach is such a crucial part of any conservation program. We can conduct research and learn valuable information about endangered animals and their habitats…but if we don’t then share that information with the public, people aren’t motivated to take action that will protect and nurture our natural world. I hope that by educating and motivating the many students that visit our research institute, we’re having a positive impact on shaping the next generation of conservationists.
The Con Ed staff is headed to the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station for a meeting next week. I’ll keep everyone posted on how things progress.
Pamela Crowe is a research technician for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.