DigestEd takes learning into the lion's den

Zoos Victoria is one of the biggest providers of education outside the classroom in Victoria. An integral part of the education system, research shows that every school visits the zoo once every two years. However, our classrooms weren't moving with the times. Digest Ed was an opportunity to bring our education offering into the 21st century.

Program Area:
Alec Prentice Sewell Gift
Location:
Melbourne
Amount:
$200,000
Project Dates:
January- December 2014
View of Lion's Gorge from Digest Ed, courtesy of Zoos Victoria

Background

Zoos Victoria (ZV) operates Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary and Werribee Open Range Zoo. We house over 3,000 animals comprising more than 350 species, inspiring more than 2.4 million visitors and 160,000 school children annually.

Zoos Victoria is one of the biggest providers of education outside the classroom in Victoria. An integral part of the education system, research shows that every school in Victoria visits the zoo at least once every two years.

However, our classrooms weren't moving with the times and were more than 40 years old. DigestED represented an opportunity to bring our education offering into the 21st century.

In 2013, with State Government funding secured, Melbourne Zoo embarked on a campaign to create a new precinct for our lions and wild dogs, and to bring visitors and students face to face with some of the world's most incredible predators. As part of this new precinct (now called Lion Gorge), a new learning centre was integrated into the lion enclosure, enabling students to observe animal behaviours up close.

The learning centre, now aptly named DigestED, is targeted at secondary and tertiary students and teachers.  

Aims & objectives

The aim of DigestEd is to:

  • Facilitate student conferences, aiming for one per year
  • Provide a flexible-use classroom space accommodating up to 20,000 students per year
  • Provide a space to work with teachers and build their professional capacity, allowing the zoo to form ongoing relationships with teachers and schools to further their biodiversity learning, and
  • Tell the story of predators and the threats they face, what we can do to help, strengthen emotional connections with animals and increase the understanding of what is being done to help save highly endangered species.

Approach

The development of this precinct was an enormous undertaking. Over 160 people were involved in the design and construction of the precinct project while approximately 20 corporate volunteers assisted in the planting around the precinct.

There were some key challenges as part of the build such as moving an enormous established 120 tonne fig tree across the site to be a focus in the middle of the visitor space. This was the first time a tree has been relocated like this in Australia.

The Yulgilbar Foundation and the Sid & Fiona Myer Family Foundation offered Zoos Victoria a major $400,000 Challenge Grant to deliver the new predator learning space. The Ian Potter Foundation provided a further $200,000, which enabled us to leverage the additional $200,000 required to construct the centre.

The development of Lion Gorge has allowed Melbourne Zoo to put substantial investment into improving the living space for some of our most loved species, a critical development for improved captive care of predators at Melbourne Zoo.

Success

DigestEd allows students to engage with our lions like never before, while learning about a variety of smaller predators on display including the endangered Philippines crocodile. The audio visual capacity of the new DigestEd learning centre allows educators to guide students through new ideas and concepts.

There have been several key outcomes since opening the DigestEd classroom.

We held a VCE genetics conference in 2016 attended by 241 students. Over 16,000 students have visited Digest Ed for formal classes in 2016. 

The impact and reach our VCE programs have on students studying Biology, Psychology and Geography (Feb–Sept 2016) has also improved with:

  • 19% of all Yr 11 Geography students attending Melbourne Zoo
  • 14% of all Yr 11 Psychology students attending Melbourne Zoo
  • 25% of all Yr 11 Biology VCE students attending Melbourne Zoo.

All have had their introduction session in DigestEd to frame their day and set them up to investigate the program's inquiry questions.

Two ongoing teacher professional development courses now run out of DigestEd on a regular basis and it is also a teacher network meeting space. 

The DigestEd space is open to the public at all other non-classroom times and is one of the most popular spaces in the zoo.

Conclusion

The Lion Gorge and DigestED Learning Centre opened in December 2014, and both have been very well received by the public, schools and teachers. The state-of-the art facilities highlight the crucial role of top-order predators in various ecosystems.

The DigestEd learning centre now acts as a benchmark across all Zoos Victoria properties and this venue has also increased Zoos Victoria’s capacity to generate income from out-of-school-hours activities.

 Jodie Odgers, Grants Manager - Zoos Victoria

The Foundation has had a long and fruitful partnership with Zoos Victoria. This project was of particular interest, having supported the original classrooms at Melbourne Zoo back in 1974. We are delighted to see how well DigestED is now being used.

This grant was awarded through The Alec Prentice Sewell Gift, a sub-fund the Foundation manages, which also helped to fund the indoor learning space as part of the Growing Wild precinct at Melbourne Zoo. Together both spaces provide leading education facilities for children and young people of all ages encouraging them to connect with the natural world. 

Nicole Bortone, Program Manager, The Alec Prentice Sewell Gift

 

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