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The educational opportunities at the Milwaukee County Zoo received an upgrade after the Milwaukee County Zoological Society was presented a funding grant of $100,000 from Thrivent Mutual Funds. The grant was used to purchase tablets, microscopes and an interactive board that are all used toward investigating the mysteries of animal life in our local environment.

A group of kids from the Out and About Home School organization came to the zoo Oct. 6 and were among the first to be a part of the program utilizing the new technology.

"(The kids) are having to do some higher order thinking, connect the dots and try and solve a case as our veterinary staff would have done," said Director of Conservation Education James Mills. "It makes the science real and it makes them practice science in real ways as they might do in a lab at a school but here they are bringing in the context of a zoo."

The kids began by viewing the Humboldt penguin exhibit and discussing what about the penguins' current and past environments could lead to the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.

"The program the kids are involved with today has to do with veterinary science and the potential for animals in the zoo's collection to be impacted by diseases that are in the wild animals around here," Mills said. "It is a very wonderful open zoo, a very wooded area. It is attractive to a lot of wildlife and it is home not only to the zoo collection animals but also to a lot of wild animals proper."

Mills said there can be situations involving the wild animals that concern the zoo staff. The students were given the task of studying the issue of potential diseases impacting the penguin population.

"There can be interactions to those two types of creatures and that can lead to situations that we have to find a way to control," Mills said. "So the students are studying a mystery having to do with a potential mosquito-borne disease impacting the penguin population here."

The students' next task involved the recently-acquired technology that was both new and familiar to the kids. They were taken to the Thrivent Mutual Funds Adaptation Lab where they were asked to investigate further.

"We have an array of tablets and an interactive board and those two things are allowing the kids to see what they need to see," Mills said. "With digital microscopes attached to the tablets it will allow the kids to look at evidence having to do with the investigation they are trying to solve."

Today's children utilize tablets for entertainment and education and for that reason felt very comfortable using them for the project.

“On the tablet we were able to see a mosquito and able to learn more about them," said Taylor Jowers, fifth-grader and member of the Out and About Home School group. "The tablet was very interesting.”

The grant from Thrivent will also help with transportation costs for schools wishing to participate in the zoo's education programs and assisting community centers and Scout groups in visiting the zoo and experiencing all the new technology.

“The lab provides children with a fun and informative learning environment year-round,” David Royal, Thrivent Mutual Funds president said. “These are unique experiences that many children in the community might not otherwise have access to, particularly children from under-served neighborhoods.”

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