Baby Pandas Improve Every Classroom Lecture

By Ross Brenneman — April 03, 2014 2 min read
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So there you are, resilient science teacher that you are, explaining animal biology, and you’re doing a very nice job of it. But you know what would improve that? Baby pandas.

Or baby animal anythings, really, which the Internet can provide in spades. NBC Nightly News on Tuesday offered a segment about a classroom actively watching a bald eagle video feed set up in Pittsburgh, a city that has been otherwise devoid of such a presence for a long time. Eagles had not only settled in the city, but laid eggs, and you can’t let that opportunity go to waste:

I don’t know that there’s a great deal of pedagogical value in many animal cams, but they do, perhaps, offer a good introduction to animal life. And in case you weren’t aware, there are hundreds of online animal feeds, which are only added to whenever a new cute (and possibly endangered) animal gets born in a major zoo.

Here in Washington, for instance, the National Zoo set up a panda cam for Bao Bao, who made Washington uniformly collapse into a puddle of emotion after being shown off to the whole world in January, and making her first outdoor appearance Tuesday. The camera lets you watch her as she and her mother, Mei Xiang, lie on an uncomfortable cement floor, the panda’s natural habitat. The San Diego Zoo is another such institution making stars out if its denizens, including polar bears/spell-check obstacles Kalluk, Tatqiq, and Chinook.

But animal cams do have their educational backers. The Wildlife Center of Virginia, to take a less well-known example, offers a whole “Cam in the Classroom” program that’s designed to “help students understand how the personal choices we make affect the health of the environment.” And for those looking for an example of hands-on experience, the University of Missouri, in St. Louis, used funding from the National Science Foundation to create a national program where students actually set up cameras themselves to explore wildlife around their schools.

The Pittsburgh eagle feed is particularly cool because, as the NBC News site adds, eagles are wild animals making a comeback after once being a threatened population. And this is a lot less depressing than reading Silent Spring, if possibly less educational. The 5th grade students featured in the video certainly seem to be riveted by the egg-hatching process.

I do wonder if other teachers find these feeds useful; it seems like a less-committed version of having an in-class incubator, and less expensive than a field trip to a zoo, for cash-strapped schools. Feel free to comment if you find them helpful for instruction.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.