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Education News

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Animals Up Close for Artists

By: Roger Torbert, VP of Education


“It looks velvety”, “Almost like a synthetic fiber”, “Like embroidery floss, maybe?” These were some of the responses from Bob Jones andJames Clemens Art class students while looking at a peacock tail feather magnified 5x. Animals up Close for Artists was a specialty Zoo Lab held for two high school art classes on March 8th at the zoo. The purpose of the lab was to preface the student’s visit to the zoo grounds, where they were to sketch animals on habitat, with an up close look at the physical characteristics of mammals, birds, and reptiles. Biofacts were presented, including pelts of various fur colors and textures, reptile skin, and feathers. Students had the opportunity to view these items through a jeweler’s loupe, a small handheld magnifier for high quality observation. After getting familiar with the texture of these structures, they were introduced to an owl, blue-tongued skink, and domestic ferret, which they were able to sketch, and in the case of the ferret and skink, even touch!

After getting up close and personal with the ambassador animals, we wrapped up the class with a “when am I going to use this in real life” conversation where we discussed careers that marry love of science with love of art such as scientific illustration and

creating graphic design and marketing materials for zoos and aquariums. We also discussed art as a way to raise awareness and money for conservation of endangered species and at risk places, like Joel Sartore’s world renowned National Geographic photography exhibit, PhotoArk. We had a lot of fun developing and implementing this program and received positive feedback from both students and teachers who said it went above and beyond their expectations.

Education is no longer taught in silos. Instead of limiting one subject per classroom, initiatives such as STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) encourage the incorporation of different disciplines into all classes and field trips. Animals up Close for Artists checked all those boxes through use of patterns, scale and size comparisons, investigating structure function, and use of technology for unconventional inquiry.