WYOMING, Ohio — Fifth-graders swarmed with hands held high to tell the story of their three-week project to create interactive exhibits for the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.
"My favorite part was how great it turned out in the end," Phillip Fritz said.
"My favorite part was the process of building the exhibits, all the cutting and painting," Nadine Mummeke said.
"I just kind of liked the process of working from the bottom to see it through to the end," Chazz Early added.
The Wyoming Middle School students had a lot to show off.
The school partnered with the zoo to create multimedia information about animals from the western hemisphere like two-toed sloths and river otters on display at the zoo. The finished products included models of exhibits designed to maximize the visitor experience and provide animals with the habitat they enjoyed.
The students also created multimedia apps packed with information about animals and their habitat, including short videos. The package on sloths is here. Those apps will be free and accessible to zoo visitors who scan a QR code — sort of like a barcode for smartphones — into their phones or tablets.
Others used the laser cutter to make sliding question and answer panels that visitors can interact with.
For the black bear display, students created a panel with samples of fur that include surprising variations on coloration — black, "light cinnamon," white and bluish gray.
A whole lot of work went into the final products, spread across science, social studies, language arts and technology classes. Students made the models in the school's fabrication lab using a 3-D printer and laser cutter.
The students learned from their online and database research that two-toed sloths swim across streams to escape predators, so they added a stream to their proposed exhibit to give the sloths of sense of security.
For visitors, they included an overhead walkway to allow a two-tiered viewing experience. They also collaborated with Evan Shaw, who runs the fabrication lab, to create a simple wooden structure with a bar that kids can hang from to emphasize the point that sloths can hang for many hours — far longer than a high-energy kid at a zoo.
It's part of Wyoming's emphasis on interdisciplinary projects, which teachers assign twice a year.
"Kids can do real-world stuff," said Emma Cooper, another fifth-grader.
Rhiannon Hoeweler, the zoo's senior director of visitor experience, strategy and fun, said the zoo will pore over the material and refine any content for accuracy.
Shasta Bray, who leads the zoo's visitor research and interpretive media, will visit the school to give the kids professional feedback.
"I think it will be good for them to have real-life feedback from an expert in the field," Hoeweler said.
For students, the reward for their work will be tangible.
"It's going to be cool because everyone who visits the zoo can see the work that we can do," Maysen Collinsworth said.