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Project Success Holds First-Ever “Build a Canoe at the Zoo”

September 4, 2018

Project Success experiential learning opportunities help students reach outside of their comfort zones, overcome obstacles, practice new skills and, as one sixth grader from our Boundary Waters trips put it, “realize that working together to help one another makes jobs go faster.”

This summer, a brand new extension of our outdoor learning programs helped students — many of whom had previously attended our Boundary Waters adventures — apply their skills in a new way.

“Build a Canoe at the Zoo” came about as a partnership between the Minnesota Zoo, Urban Boatbuilders and Project Success. Over a two-week period, middle schoolers were given the opportunity to work in groups and collaborate with one another as they built a canoe from scratch and learned about what goes on behind-the-scenes at the Minnesota Zoo.

With leadership from instructors Partnership Program Instructor Anais from UBB and Zoo Instructor/Naturalist Max from the Minnesota Zoo, students problem-solved, learned new skills and information, and grew together as a team throughout the experience.

Students’ time was split between working on the canoe and completing research in the zoo.

Students learned about canoes and each component of a canoe, all while building one together. Each day, students completed a variety of tasks ranging from steam-bending wood used for the frame of the canoe, to painting on a waterproof, polyurethane coating affectionately referred to by the students as “goop.”

With Max, students were given “behind-the-scenes” access to much of what goes on at the zoo. Animal handlers gave students the chance to not only see wildlife up close, but to learn and interact with many of the animals as well.

Students completed research on the local ecosystem of ponds in the area. In an effort to provide students with the opportunity to learn about the questions scientists ask in the environment and about animals, students came up with testable questions, researched their questions, and finally compiled data to support their findings.

On the final day, students presented the individual research projects they had been working on over the duration of the camp. Presentations covered topics ranging from the lives of butterflies, to wildlife found in the area using motion-sensing cameras.

In what was an exciting culmination of two weeks of work, students’ families attended their final day of programming. After an opportunity to present what they had studied, students took the canoe on its maiden voyage. Family members had a chance to try out their students’ new canoe and see their students’ paddling skills in action.

By the end of the experience, families and students had a resounding, positive response. Together, the students formed a community, practiced stewardship of the natural world around them, and built confidence as they built, floated and paddled their canoe.