For middle school students, a trip to the zoo is usually fun, but often led by adults. What would happen if we asked young people to be the leaders? What would they show us? What would we learn?
New Learning Institute partnered with several organizations to launch the Biodiversity Quest pilot program in Chicago, which challenged young people to create mobile scavenger hunts, also known as “quests,” at Lincoln Park Zoo. Designed in collaboration with Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots and the ARKive project, these quests aim to educate other young visitors about endangered species, as well as make them aware of how they can take action to save the planet's threatened and endangered species.
Biodiversity Quest was an eight-week after school program held at Bouchet Math and Science Academy on the South Side of Chicago. Over the course of the workshops, sixth and seventh grade students designed mobile quests, built online with the 7scenes storytelling platform and played them using GPS-enabled smartphones. These student-designed quests were played by the students and their family and friends during a visit to the zoo, helping them draw connections between exhibits. As the groups played a quest on their smartphones, GPS-tagged clues, including photos, videos, information, or simple quiz questions, popped up on their screen when they reached predetermined spots. Examples of the themes the participants developed include:
- Furry Meat Chompers: a quest that leads you to see species that are furry carnivores, several of which are threatened or endangered.
- Different Level of Threatened Status: a quest that leads you to exhibits of species with different degrees of threatened status.
- Species Threatened Globally: a quest that leads you to species from around the world that have threatened status.
Many young people love learning about animals, but they don't necessarily know why it is important to maintain species diversity on the planet. NLI worked closely with partners to design a program framework that provided an engaging, hands-on experience for the youth participants to explore the challenges wildlife face around the world and what people can do to protect them. Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots program helped structure the workshops with their model of moving young people from knowledge to compassion and into taking action, making a difference for people, animals, and the environment we share. ARKive brought to Biodiversity Quest a wealth of endangered species media, biological information, and educational resources. ARKive.org is a user-friendly and searchable treasure trove of professional wildlife photos, videos, and biological information for over 13,000 threatened species (and still growing!). The participants in the Biodiversity Quest workshops built their quests using ARKive biological information and had access to over 80,000 stunning wildlife photos and videos from the ARKive website. Adding this rich media to the quests allowed the young designers to enhance the experience of their peers, family members, and friends who played their quests.
The creation of the mobile quests during the Biodiversity Program was a chance for the young participants to work towards an authentic goal. Within the first few weeks of the program, Lincoln Park Zoo staff offered students criteria to follow, similar to what the Zoo follows in designing their own programs. The students felt if critical criteria were met, it was possible their work could actually reach an audience outside their classroom, which inspired them to take the design process seriously. Throughout the program, participants were also given the opportunity to choose the species and themes that they cared about and wanted to explore further. They loved spending time searching on the ARKive website to look at photos and videos of species they had never heard of before. The Roots & Shoots approach, paired with the rich content from ARKive, helped them connect the program to their own lives and interests, keeping them engaged over the eight-week program.
Every participant in the Biodiversity Quest program worked in a team to research and design their quests. Like any other collaborative process, it wasn't always easy-going, but the teams learned how to work together to complete the quests. They separated their various roles and tasks — some students were researchers, others were programmers, and some preferred to be writers. The design process was iterative, meaning the teams went through cycles of coming up with ideas together, trying them out, presenting them, and receiving feedback. The participants journeyed to Lincoln Park Zoo with early versions of their quests in 7scenes to “play test” them. This process involved playing a working version of the quest to discover mistakes or bugs that required a fix. As they tested the quests, the young participants were in full problem-solving mode, thinking about questions like: Are the clue points in places people could access? Are the points too far away from each other? They also had time to test out other groups' quests and offer feedback so that everyone's quests could be improved before the final showcase.
After eight weeks of learning about threatened and endangered species and working diligently on their quests, the final event at Bouchet Academy and Lincoln Park Zoo brought together family members and friends to play and learn. The Biodiversity Quest participants acted as tour guides as their families played the quests and traveled from exhibit to exhibit learning more about the species. At the event, the students were asked by one of their parents what they would take away from this experience. You might think they would have been most excited about the new digital technology they used throughout the program, but not one of them mentioned the smartphones or laptops as a highlight. Instead, they said that they would take away a new curiosity about all the various species there are in the world and a desire to protect species that are threatened and endangered. While the digital media hooked the students’ interest and facilitated their learning of new research and design skills, in the end, the issues of biodiversity and the urgency to preserve threatened and endangered species prevailed in capturing the students’ attention.