Wesley Reagle wants to learn as much as he can about animals to help better protect them.
That’s one of the reasons why the Deer Lakes seventh grader applied for the KidScience Program at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.
“I was very excited to get a chance to go behind the scenes at the zoo,” said Reagle, 12, of West Deer. “I had the opportunity to pet the anteater and also see the fossa’s winter enclosure, which is not visible to the public.”
KidScience is a two-year tuition-based program that teaches middle school students about animal behavior and conservation through classroom lessons, data collection and analysis, behind-the-scenes tours, research projects and animal encounters.
“We teach them about animals and conservation through the lens of studying animals like a scientist,” said Mandy Revak, program coordinator. “We teach them animal behavior research techniques, and we learn how to design a scientific study and how to collect data by watching animals and their behaviors.”
One lesson might be on how to tell individual animals apart.
Revak would teach students what characteristics to look for on the animals, such as their size, shape, facial structure, body structure and ear shape.
The students would go out into the zoo and conduct research by drawing sketches and taking notes on the animals. They would come back later and tell Revak who is who in the herd based on their notes.
“We practice it a little bit in the classroom and then a lot of it out in the zoo,” Revak said. “A lot of our learning happens with different animals throughout. It will be elephants one week and gorillas another week and polar bears another week.”
Reagle is one of two Deer Lakes middle schoolers participating in this year’s program. The other is Matthew Crawford, a sixth grader.
Crawford’s mother Lori Crawford said her son joined the program because he loves animals. He enjoys learning about their behavior and why they act the way they do.
“He wants to know ‘why’ everything,” his mom said.
The program takes place during the school year and over the summer.
Classes are held every other Saturday from October through May, followed by a three week summer session.
During the summer session, students design and carry out their very own research projects based on a particular question they have about a particular animal.
Some of the projects students have done in the past include:
• Whether the clouded leopard cubs are more active when there are more or less people visiting their exhibit
• If the sea lions swim in the same direction around the pool all day or if they swim in different directions at different times of the day
• What fruit the fruit bats prefer
“There’s a lot of different things the kids have looked at,” Revak said. “They do a bunch of different types of studies.”
Revak said the program gives the students real world science experience they can’t learn from a textbook.
A lot of students also are in the program because they want to work with animals one day, whether that be as a zookeeper, a veterinarian or a marine biologist.
The program can help them decide if that’s something they really want to do, and if so, get them started on that path.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids go through this program and grow up and get into those fields that they dreamed about doing when they started as a kiddo,” Revak said. “It does definitely give kids experiences that are valuable in college and for internships and job experiences later in life.”
The program is no longer accepting applications for this year, but will start accepting applications for next year’s program in January or February. To apply, visit https://www.pittsburghzoo.org/kidscience/.
Madasyn Lee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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