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Wild Wise: Ready, Set, Discover


Piloted in the 2008-2009 school year, Wild Wise: Ready, Set, Discover engages elementary students in developing a deeper understanding of ecosystems while deepening scientific literacy skills through use of problem-based learning (PBL).  Ready, Set, Discover is a partnership program between Woodland Park Zoo and Kent School District.

The overall strategy behind the Wild Wise: Ready, Set, Discover (RSD) program design is to give students multiple nature-based opportunities to engage with the concepts and practices of scientific inquiry and problem-based learning. Through RSD, students experience science learning outside of a formal classroom setting, and within a community of learners that includes their teachers, other students, their families, and a core group of zoo naturalists. Each program element builds on prior understanding and experience, reinforcing knowledge and skill development.

Three overarching features of the program’s strategy and approach, outlined briefly below, are:

  1. A focus on nature-based inquiry and problem-based learning

  2. Building communities of learners to strengthen science identity and ecological literacy

  3. The value of formal/informal collaboration to strengthen STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning



How it works

The Ready, Set, Discover experience begins with a Meet the Problem lesson in the classroom in which students learn about the real world scientific problem they will be solving over the next five months. Our current focus is amphibians and their wetland habitats in our region, as well as related environment issues affecting amphibian species. After this, students come to Woodland Park Zoo to experience our Wild Wise program and explore exhibit areas relevant to our focus topic. Students then visit a local park to do hands-on field research with WPZ educators and learn about local wetland ecosystems. The program concludes with an opportunity for students to share their solutions to their peers, zoo naturalists and teachers. At the conclusion of the student presentations we provide each participant with four zoo passes so that they can share their new knowledge with family and friends when they return to the zoo.

Follow along each stage to see how the students' learning progresses throughout the Ready, Set, Discover experience.


Step One: Meet the Problem

Teachers employ a PowerPoint presentation along with the Meet the Problem letter and video to orient students to the problem they are expected to solve. After these presentations teachers guide the class through the Know and Need to Know charts to help them map their information gathering. This is followed by the students developing their problem statements. 



Step Two: Wild Wise Program and Zoo Exploration

The Wild Wise program helps students learn about Washington ecosystems, animal characteristics and scientific observation while building critical thinking skills. During the Wild Wise program held in Woodland Park Zoo’s PACCAR Auditorium, students explore Washington wildlife and habitats through an exciting and interactive multi-media presentation complete with sound and imagery. The program is an introduction to skills that can be used in nature observation and data collection.

On the guided tour, students explore the zoo’s Humboldt Penguin exhibit with a zoo naturalist. This serves as an opportunity to apply skills gained during the Wild Wise program in order to become more familiar with the many aspects of an aquatic ecosystem. This program also focuses on balance within an ecosystem and ecosystem services. The tour ends with an emphasis on built and natural environments which supports NGSS engineering practices.

A portion of this time is dedicated to a question and answer session between zoo staff and students in order for students to acquire answers to their Need to Knows. 



Step Three: Wild Wise Outdoor Exploration

Following the zoo-based program, students participate in a field trip to a nearby park. Wild Wise Outdoor Explorations extend classroom learning beyond the school walls and give students an opportunity for hands-on practice with the skills introduced during the Wild Wise program and zoo exploration. The park visit provides students with an opportunity to gain comfort in natural settings and familiarity with local wetlands while gathering information necessary to solve their problem.  The activities during the park visit are both exploratory and investigation-based. Activities can be modified to focus on aspects that students determine are important to investigate to obtain knowledge about amphibian conservation. 



Step Four: Sharing Solutions

Zoo naturalists return to the school for students to share their solution to the problem, either in individual classrooms or in a shared use area of the school. Each small group spends time with a zoo naturalist summarizing their research on amphibians and wetlands and sharing their solution for improving habitat in their local community for amphibians.  Students are asked to explain how all of the program experiences  (in their classroom, at the zoo and exploring the local wetland) contributed to their research. At the conclusion of their presentation, each student receives four zoo passes to bring their families to the zoo at a later date.

Timeline for Ready, Set, Discover:

See how Ready, Set, Discover spans the school year, building on earlier experiences.

READY, SET, DISCOVER! - (5th Grade)






Meet the Problem*






Zoo Exploration






Outdoor Exploration






Sharing Solutions

In 2011, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums recognized Ready, Set, Discovered with the Top Honor Education Award.