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Huge success at ZOODisputa in the ZOOPedagogy section December 12, 2022

Participants of the education section of the ZOODisputa and ZOOPedagogy conference had the opportunity to take a look at the educational sessions on animal protection with the help of the Department of Education at the Budapest Zoo.

Thanks to a team of qualified zoologists, they had the opportunity to study teaching tools on the subject of responsible animal keeping and handling contact or hand-held animals. They also discovered the Green Workshop, which offers a range of creative craft activities to deepen their knowledge of the subject. Today's modern zoos are not only entertainment attractions but also vital workshops. It is crucial for learning about and protecting wildlife, as well as major institutions for environmental education, as the guided tour explained.

During the tour of our educational sites, the Zoo's educational activities were discussed, which provided an experience for more than 10 000 children a year. "Our mission is to show the secrets of living nature, to explain the factors and processes that threaten the diversity of living things, and to motivate them to take personal responsibility. Our motto is: see, feel and protect". In addition to organised group activities, they said that during the main season, from 15 March to 1 November, visitors can enjoy daily animal shows and TapiZOO stations. They can learn about the continents' wildlife using visual aids (bones, skins, taxidermy, etc.).

Regarding the range of activities offered to schools and kindergartens, adapted to their educational programs, and the methodological training courses to support teacher training, they said that the educational and pedagogical offer is in line with the National Curriculum and the Basic Educational Program for Kindergarten. And that the zoo visit can be fully integrated into the educational and pedagogical plans of the institutions. The Budapest Zoo is a special learning environment, where the experience of meeting live animals makes the inclusion more effective. The inspiring experience helps to process and retain knowledge. In this environment, children are highly motivated, gathering their experiential knowledge and experiences through several senses at once, which can be easily integrated into educational development work.

On the second day of ZOODisputa, the audience was given a more comprehensive picture of the colourful and rich activities of zoo education in Hungary, through the presentations of various zoos.

Andrea Kispéter, President of the Crime Prevention and Education Service Centre Association, encouraged the experts to understand the differences between the socialisation of Alpha and Z-generation children in her presentation "Education for sustainability and animal protection awareness through experiential education and zoo education.". The blending of virtual reality with everyday life and play in modern societies should be a priority in educational and pedagogical issues. She said it was important, that both children and teachers should be made aware of the issues that threaten environmental awareness and sustainability. She presented methods for developing social support skills, tolerance, acceptance, and affirmation of difference in the way group and cooperative tasks are structured. She stressed that the competencies that children need are all the competencies that can be developed in the group.

They will be able to apply what they have learned in theory and practice, using new and effective methods to develop knowledge, competencies, and attitudes. The zoo and experiential education are very simply linked, because the zoo, the wildlife park, the national park, and nature itself are the experience. In addition to traditional education, the focus can be on nurturing and developing competencies. Unfortunately, many children do not get to visit zoos and wildlife parks even in late adolescence, so the fear of the unknown (for example, seeing an exotic animal) as an emotional trigger is not included in education. And the information that we encounter in situations close to the edge is so deeply ingrained that we remember every moment of it decades later, the expert said.

As a concrete example, she mentioned the Szeged Zoo's Stork Days, where the first-year students went through exciting stations as an unknown team, and finally became a community by the end of the program. Twenty years later, the participants still remember what each of them said and how they acted at each station. The class teachers have reported that the relationship becomes much more direct because the power of touch and the experience of belonging is present in the group. There are many different approaches to experiential education. However, experiential education must be distinguished from experience for its own sake by reflection. It is not an adventure park, and it is not a scare for its own sake, but the aim is to get the individual out of their comfort zone, because the panic zone activates resources that we would otherwise not have much access to, and learning deepens in these situations. Experiential education plays an important role in zoopedagogy because it makes attitudes accessible.

As we age, our attitudes become more difficult to change, but in this flexible state, we can still change. Concerning the use of experiential education, she stressed that she hopes that more and more people will use experiential education exercises and games, but with great care, especially concerning the vulnerability of the individual. In doing so, the person breaks through emotional barriers that they would otherwise not have access to. Therefore, she considered it very important to stress that a professional should only prepare an experiential learning task if he or she has personally experienced the challenge. It is beyond the everyday life of a person, for example, to have to reach into an unfamiliar box and not know what is in there. The session leader needs to be aware of this feeling - even though he knows that there is only a feather in the unknown box -, because it is important to give the participant a psychological and physical sense of security. For high rope technique tasks (lifting the participant above shoulder height), physical safety is the first priority; these are expensive tasks requiring expensive equipment and a specialist trainer. Nowadays, low-equipment experiential pedagogy is also advanced, the equipment package for these games is a small bag and the elements can be obtained anywhere.

As for the types of games, she mentioned trust games, where everyone plays a different role than they would normally play. Thus, the one who talks cannot talk but is put in an executive role, for example, in simulated rescue games, or cooperative games, getting from one place to another. This type of task evens out the differences between participants. The girl in the wheelchair, and the little boy with the glass bones, could participate in the game, in the same way, being part of the team during the process. Finally, she said that the Green Patrol training, which is an accredited training for teachers, has been developed with the Szeged Zoo. They have an animal protection escape room and an experiential education toolkit, which includes a Green Patrol board game and a colouring book. Research on the board game involved sixth-grade students in sustainability education, ZOO, and experiential education. The attitudes of urban school children towards animals were that they thought of them more as companions, while rural children thought of them more as farm animals. Their views on sustainability and the environment improved significantly after only 35 minutes of play.

The next presentation was given by Zsuzsa Révészné Petró, Head of Education Department and spokesperson of Sóstó Zoo, who presented her work in EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) Bear TAG (Taxon Advisory Group). Speaking about their Happy Bears' Day 2021 campaign in May, she said that it had become a global campaign despite the pandemic, and 80 zoos had joined them at the EU level.

Zsuzsa Petró's Human and Bear Conflicts training material, produced with the help of IUCN Human colleagues, has been an international success, especially in places where the distribution of bears has led to everyday conflicts for people living in the country.

Viktória Nemes, "The pledge of their future..." presented the educational experiences of the Mecsek Natural Science Experience Centre from the perspective of animal conservation. The project, which was launched on 7 January 2019 thanks to the EFOP 3.3.6 project, involved 12 000 students and aimed to provide innovative, experiential learning and to raise interest in science subjects. Children and classes were able to participate free of charge in 31 types of activities, in theme days, workshops, and quizzes (with a particular focus on disadvantaged and segregated communities).

Tamás Varga, Head of Animal Collection and Education Department of Pécs Zoo, speaking about the European Union projects as a tool for environmental awareness, called this an important resource creation tool in education. Presenting their successful project, the audience was able to learn about the steps from the application monitoring phase to the accounting and auditing.

The session was closed with a presentation by Virág Burányi, presenting the training programs of the Budakeszi Wildlife Park. And Bence Botka's presentation called: small steps for a penguin, big steps for me, which was a huge success with the audience.