‘Night at a Living Museum’ brings hands-on learning to community members

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Hosted at the Potter Park Zoo in collaboration with the MSU Science Festival, Night at a Living Museum allowed learners of all ages to connect with the natural world, particularly through hands-on interaction. 

Waiting just inside the front gate is a world of exploration and discovery. 

“I think it gives the public a great opportunity to learn,” said intern Cameron Howell. “I think the most important aspect is the hands-on ability.”

Although the zoo typically closes at 5 p.m., the event was open to the public from 5–8 p.m., giving visitors the opportunity to interact with animals that are more active at night. 

Activity stations were located throughout the zoo to provide engaging experiences to attendees. The goal of each station was to further connect participants with the subjects of science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). 

Activities at the stations included a “Vet Med” experience, examining feathers with a microscope, a skull display table, seed bombs making, conservation education and “Zoopardy,” a zoo-themed Jeopardy game. 

Attendees partaking in the skull guessing activity

Mackenize Dekker

Attendees of ‘Night at a Living Museum’ participate in the skull guessing activity, matching the skull with the correct animal picture.

Rachel Marlatt, one of the zoo’s conservation engagement specialists, said it’s important for kids to have access to hands-on learning because of the spectrum of learning styles. 

“You could just give them the information of how a tiger’s stripes help it camouflage but they may not remember the straight facts,” Marlatt continued. “A hands-on experience could spark connections in their brain to help them better retain those facts.”

Brooke DeVries, a Living Museum attendee who also studies neuroscience at Michigan State, said she hopes that introducing science in a fun way can instill a level of appreciation for learning.

“I think it’s so important for our kids and everyone to understand science, at least to some level, and get excited about it and recognize it’s not scary,” DeVries said. 

“It gets them involved and it gets them passionate and connected to conservation topics,” said Howell. 

The event is also a source of joy for the zoo employees as well. 

Event volunteer Caitlin Mack, a graduate student at MSU studying zoology, found that this event provides another route to engage in outreach, connect with people on topics that she is passionate about and share her knowledge with people. The thing she enjoys most about the event is getting the chance to engage with people from different backgrounds, ages and knowledge levels.

“It’s a continual learning experience,” said Mack. 

Marlatt said her favorite parts about being involved with events such as this are interacting with the public and providing a fun environment. 

“It is a great time to get people outside on a beautiful day and have a chance to educate them about wildlife and what we can do to save wildlife,” Marlatt said. 

Attendees partaking in the process of making seed balls.

Mackenize Dekker

Another activity located throughout the zoo included a native pollinator-friendly seed ball station.

Science is something that DeVries believes everyone should give a chance.  

“Science is just exploring the world around you,” DeVries said. “I think that that’s something everyone should understand and be excited and open to.”

The mission of the zoo is to “inspire people to conserve animals and the natural world.” It’s events such as “Night at the Living Museum” which aim to do just that.

“I hope that [the visitors] leave knowing a little more than what they did before,” Marlatt said. “We want all members of the community to come and enjoy the zoo and learn something about these amazing animals that we have here.”

For more information on upcoming events, visit the Potter Park Zoo public events calendar: https://potterparkzoo.org/upcoming-events/

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