Wild Wise: Ready, Set, Discover


This program, piloted in the 2008-2009 school year, engages elementary students in developing a deeper understanding of ecosystems and building skills in conducting scientific inquiry.  Ready, Set, Discover is a partnership program with 5th grade classes in Kent School District. 

How it works

The Ready, Set, Discover experience begins with a Wild Wise program on zoo grounds, moves into the students' community with a visit to a local park, continues with scientific inquiry in the students' schoolyard, and ends with a chance to present their findings to zoo naturalists and return to the zoo. 

Follow along each stage to see how the students' learning progresses throughout the Ready, Set, Discover experience. 

Step One: Wild Wise Program and Ecosystems Program

The Wild Wise program helps students learn about Washington ecosystems, animal characteristics and scientific observation while building critical thinking skills. During the Wild Wise program held in Woodland Park Zoo’s Auditorium, students explore Washington wildlife and habitats through an exciting and interactive multi-media presentation complete with sound and imagery. The program is an introduction to inquiry skills that can be used in nature observation and data collection.

On the Ecosystems tour, students explore the zoo’s Northern Trail exhibit with a zoo naturalist, investigating both the living and non-living parts of the ecosystem and how they interact. Students will be encouraged to ask questions about the organisms and natural features they see and to try to answer those questions using their observation skills, practicing and applying skills gained during the Wild Wise program.


Step Two: Wild Wise Outdoor Exploration

Following the zoo-based program, students will participate in a field trip to a nearby park or natural area. Wild Wise Outdoor Explorations are a great way to extend classroom learning beyond the school walls and give students an opportunity for hands-on practice with the skills introduced during the Wild Wise and Ecosystems programs at the zoo. Under the guidance of a naturalist from the zoo, students explore the park while using critical thinking and observation skills to investigate the park’s ecosystems through activities such as bird watching, animal tracking, hiking or nature journaling.  This element also includes a mini-field investigation to prep the students for their own upcoming field investigations.


Step Three: Inquiry in the Schoolyard

Classroom teachers will place students into small groups of approximately 5 students per group. Teachers will then guide students through making detailed observations about nature in their schoolyard and recording them in a field notebook. Back in the classroom, zoo naturalists will guide students through the process of turning their questions about their observations into testable questions and brainstorming ways to answer these through field investigations.  Each small group of students will then decide on a single question they will investigate.

Students return to the schoolyard to put their inquiry techniques into action. Zoo naturalists guide the students through developing methods and collecting data to answer the questions they came up with previously. In the classroom the students have time to research and complete their projects. The students will need to prepare presentations of their projects for the Reporting Findings program element.


Step Four: Reporting Findings

Zoo naturalists return to the school for students to present the results of their field investigations in a science fair setting, either in individual classrooms or in a shared use area of the school. Students will receive Nature Exchange points for their presentation based on their demonstration of effective participation in all steps of a field investigation. Points can be redeemed at Woodland Park Zoo’s Nature Exchange for interesting nature items. At the conclusion of the presentations, each student will receive four zoo passes to bring their families to the zoo at a later date, along with an orientation packet for participating in Nature Exchange during their visit.


Timeline for Ready, Set, Discover:

See how Ready, Set, Discover spans the school year, building on earlier experiences.

READY, SET, DISCOVER - (5th Grade)










Wild Wise + Eco


Wild Wise at Park


Schoolyard Obsv & Question


Schoolyard Field Investigation


Reporting Findings



We evaluate the Ready, Set, Discover program each year. Teachers have indicated that the Ready, Set, Discover program:

  • Supplements and enhances what they are teaching
  • Engages students in the practice of scientific inquiry
  • Prepares students for the Measure of Student Progress in inquiry
  • Develops communication skills


Pre-post surveys of students who participate in the zoo’s Wild Wise outreach program (which is a component of Ready, Set, Discover) have shown  a significant increase in their appreciation for native Northwest wildlife. The majority of Ready, Set, Discover students are, by the end of their experience, able to demonstrate an understanding of key steps in the scientific reasoning process: student teams are able to come up with a comparative question based on their own observations, state a hypothesis and engage in data collection using field investigation tools in an appropriate manner.