Guest Blogger Melissa: Duke School Project

Melissa, handling one of our baby alligators a couple years ago.


Melissa from our Innovation and Learning Department worked with a school on a really cool project. Keep Reading if you want to learn more.








A few months ago, the Duke School approached the Museum for their 5th grade Animalia project. The students wanted to work towards solving a challenge that would benefit the Museum keepers, animals, and the public. We tasked one group with creating an enrichment for our black bears and another group with creating an exhibit prototype for a new animal exhibit.

This group of 5th graders came to the Museum on a Research and Development-style field trip to explore enrichment and also to scope out undeveloped spaces for their new animal exhibit. They returned to their school buzzing with ideas and continued the design process. As part of their research, they followed up with us by emailing questions to the Animal Department.

A few weeks later, a representative from our Innovation and Learning Team visited the Duke School to see the 5th graders’ progress. The students had come up with some amazing ideas and received feedback that they would then use towards improving their prototypes.

This is an enrichment designed for black bears. It is intended to hang from a tree, like a bee hive, and hold food for the bears. The idea is that the enrichment would encourage the natural behavior or climbing, swatting, and foraging

The students continued working through the design process in making modifications to their prototypes in preparation for their Animalia project culmination.

A representative from the Museum’s Innovation and Learning team attended a morning event where the prototypes, along with other project artifacts, were shared with families, teachers, and partner organization representatives. We were able to join a 5th grade student and her parents on their tour that was completely student-led. The student engagement and depth of understanding was linked to the successful integration happening across subjects – all related to Animals!

Overall, we were incredibly impressed with the work of these students and their educators! We were excited to see how the students imagined bear enrichment and also new animal exhibits through project-based learning. Thank you to the Duke School for inviting us as a partner organization for this project.

A display showing the design process behind creating black bear enrichment


A keeper-controlled, steel car that will deliver food to black bears throughout their exhibit.



The bear kong enrichment prototype


A display showing the design process involved in creating a new animal exhibit prototype. Which new animal, of those above, would you most like to see at the Museum one day?
Here is the prototype for the Amur Tiger exhibit. The students selected where the exhibit would go and considered keeper, visitor, and animal needs.


Students tracked animals and set-up game cameras around the school to document wildlife.


Students crafted animal masks and performed in an Earth Day play.


Students designed and made animal-themed cards to sell to benefit a non-profit that provides services for animals.


Students researched animal data and graphed the mean, median, mode and range.




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