WOODBURY — Fourth graders at Valley Crossing Elementary School have spent the last month brainstorming ways to help visually-impaired Hawaiian monk seals at the Minnesota Zoo.
Friday, zoo staff came to hear each student's idea for the annual ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge, in which participating K-12 students are asked to address real challenges at the zoo using math, science and engineering skills — and a dose of creativity.
Usually, the challenge entails finding ways to enrich the animals, which is an ongoing need, Minnesota Zoo STEM specialist Kristi Berg said.
"I think what makes it most successful is that every little bit of it is kid-driven," said Valley Crossing fourth grade teacher Kira Warden, who has had her class participate in the zoo challenge for the past several years.
Friday's judging was the first round of the competition, which culminates in the spring with a statewide exhibit.
Warden's class has had a first- and second-place winner in the past, she said.
Berg said that so far, the zoo has followed through on one student idea from the statewide competition: a beehive feeder for grizzly bears.
"Schools are trying to push creativity and problem-solving ... People might not think of the zoo as STEM, but to find enrichment, you need all those same skills," Warden said. "We're trying to show kids this is a career path they can take and that STEM is important."