Every year, Stacey Moore’s third graders in Virginia Beach, Virginia, are transported to Africa where they ride along with a naturalist on safari.
It all happens virtually via WildEarth Kids and safariLIVE, a free program for schools that offers 45-minute live tours of wildlife preserves in South Africa and Kenya. The tours are led by naturalists who offer narration and answer questions from students in real time.
“You’re able to observe the animals in their natural habitats while sitting in a classroom,” Moore said. “While I can’t take them to Africa, I can bring Africa to them, and the wow effect is amazing, especially when they see their name up on the screen as the naturalist answers their question.”
WildEarth Kids is the educational branch of safariLIVE, which live-streams two, three-hour tours with naturalists as they drive through Kruger Park in South Africa and Maasai Mara reserve in Kenya. The daily webcasts began in 2006 but the school version has only been around since 2015.
The safaris transport Moore’s students who are growing up on the Atlantic coast to a land completely unlike what they’re used to. It connects what they’re learning in their science units to the real world.
The live and unscripted nature of the safaris lets students feel like they’re participating in an event. And it’s a thrill for students to see the naturalists talk directly to them as they answer their questions, Moore said.
“They are literally driving along and they turn and they face the children on the screen and they say, ‘Oh Sammy, what a wonderful question. You want to know what’s the difference between the spots on a leopard and the spots on a cheetah.’ … It gives kids individual attention.”
Addressing the Global Collaborator standard
It also shows students how they can communicate with experts around the world, which is a hallmark of the Global Collaborator standard within the ISTE Standards for Students. The Global Collaborator standard expects students to “use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others… .”
“They’re Skyping clear across to another continent,” Moore said. “They’re like, ‘Here I am in my classroom in Virginia Beach and I’m communicating with someone clear across the world.’”
Only four school groups can watch a webcast at a time to allow the naturalists to answer as many questions as possible. Moore works with her students beforehand on coming up with good questions.
“The children work in small groups and we talk about different animals that they might see prior to the actual session because we don’t want them to go into it cold turkey,” she said. “We want them to ask some really thought-provoking questions.”
For third graders, that can mean asking about how the animals have adapted to survive in the African environment, why they have fur when the climate is so hot or the purpose of elephant tusks, Moore said.
Why it works
It’s authentic. There’s a lot going on that can grab students: exotic places and animals, reaching across the world via technology, the authenticity of the experience and personal attention from the naturalists. “That’s the big wow factor with this,” she said. “Their research comes to life when they see their question, and then they get the validation and the reinforcement of what they’ve actually spent the time doing.”
The special allure of animals. The safaris present exotic creatures up close. “I think that children are intrinsically motivated to learn about animals,” Moore said. “I think they care for them and they want to know more about them.” It also plants a seed in children about conservation and stewardship of the Earth. “I think it’s something that grows as they grow,” she said.
It’s a good fit for curriculum. For Moore, the safariLIVE presentations are just a part of larger science units and are a natural fit for the third grade curriculum. “I could easily use it three times a year to focus on animal adaptations, habitat and food chains. It’s also a very good just to have it on muted in the background and students can see the animals as they’re doing another science project.” The safaris are also age-appropriate. The naturalists are careful to avoid scenes of violence or mating activity for younger children and ask before showing such scenes to older audiences.
Jerry Fingal is a freelance writer and editor who covers education, business and finance.