ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge Exhibition Week
Presented by Flint Hills Resources
March 7-11, 2022
The ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge offers students in grades 3-12 a chance to develop a solution to a real problem faced by zookeepers and staff at the Minnesota Zoo. This year, students were challenged to apply their science and math knowledge, creativity, and problem-solving skills to engineer an innovative enrichment or exhibit design solution for the Minnesota Zoo’s pack of gray wolves.
Of the 4500 students that developed nearly 1500 enrichment design solutions, only 40 elementary, 40- middle school, and 20 high school projects were selected to give students the opportunity to present their design solutions to Zoo staff and Flint Hills Resources engineers during the ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge Exhibition week.
Best of luck to all ZOOMS student engineer presenters!
Activities and Videos
Congratulations to all of the students that were chosen out of nearly 4500 students across Minnesota and beyond to participate in the ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge Exhibition presented by Flint Hills Resources this year! Our staff were incredibly impressed and inspired by the thoughtful and creative design solutions that were developed for the gray wolf pack. STEM is critical to ensuring our animals here at the Zoo have the highest quality of care by providing them with engineered habitats and enrichments to help them thrive so they can be amazing ambassadors for the conservation of their species in the wild. Thank you for taking on this important Zoo design challenge and helping the Minnesota Zoo staff and wolves.
Both Minnesota Zoo and Flint Hills Resources judges have chosen to recognize projects from each grade level to receive awards for their outstanding project presentations and use of the engineering design process. All winners will receive a pack of Zoo passes while the 1st place award winners will each receive an annual household membership for their family!
Thank you to all ZOOMS teachers and students for your hard work and dedication this year! We hope you will join us again next school year to help solve new Zoo design challenges! Registration for the 2022-2023 ZOOMS Design Challenge will open in early May! Be sure to Follow Minnesota Zoo for Educators on Facebook to keep up with the latest Zoo education news and ZOOMS updates!
Elementary School Awards
Middle School Awards
High School Awards
Welcome to the ZOOMS Design Challenge Exhibition!
A special message from Governor Tim Walz.
A special message from John Frawley, Director of the Minnesota Zoo & President of the Minnesota Zoo Foundation.
A special message from Geoff Glasrud, Vice President and Manufacturing Manager, Flint Hills Pine Bend Refinery.
March 3 & 7
Judges Evaluate Virtual and Pre-Recorded Presentations
Elementary Exhibition at Zoo
Judging 10 am -12 pm
Middle School ZOOMS Exhibition at the Zoo
Judging 10 am -12 pm
High School ZOOMS Exhibition at the Zoo
Judging 10 am -12 pm
ZOOMS Award Winners Shared
ZOOMS Exhibition Participating Schools
Elementary (Grades 3-5)
Cedar Park Elementary
Cedar Ridge Elementary
Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion
Garlough Environmental Magnet School
District 196 Online
Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School
Holy Spirit School
Independence Elementary STEM School
Lihikai Elementary School
Oak Point Elementary
Prairie View Elementary
Rochester Public School Online
St. Jude of the Lake
Valley Crossing Elementary
Middle School (Grades 6-8)
Century Middle School
Carondelet Catholic School
E-STEM Middle School
Highland Park Middle School
Owatonna Middle School
St. Jude of the Lake
Zimmerman Middle School
UMN Extensions – Paws and Pals 4-H Club
High School (Grades 9-12)
School of Environmental Studies
SPPS Online High School
Wolf Ridge Exhibit Design Challenge
Since the Zoo opened its first gray wolf habitat on the Minnesota Trail in 2006, the Minnesota Zoo had never housed more than 2 wolves. But in 2014, the Zoo became the new home to a pack of five orphaned gray wolf pups rescued from the massive Funny River wildfire by a fire crew in Alaska.
While the current habitat offers plenty of space for a pack this size, as the Zoo looks to the future and explores new possibilities for the Zoo’s ‘Pathway to Nature’ master plan, zoo staff have considered expanding the current wolf exhibit to better accommodate the larger and active wolf pack. A new addition called ‘Wolf Ridge’ was proposed that would extend the back of the habitat and add a new visitor viewing area. While this project is still only a proposed concept in the master plan, the Zoo would like to see creative ways that this expansion could meet animal, visitor, and zookeeper needs and complement the existing wolf habitat in order to help determine if it should be included in the Zoo’s final master plan.
Enrichment Design Challenge
Five orphaned gray wolf pups, rescued from the massive Funny River Wildfire in Alaska in 2014, now call the Minnesota Zoo’s Medtronic Minnesota Trail their home. The two females and three males were found without their mother and saved by an Alaskan fire crew who discovered a wolf den in a bulldozer line at the Kenai Peninsula fire. “Hooper,” “Stebbins,” “X-Ray,” “Huslia” and “Gannett” have adjusted very well to their new home over the few years.
While they are very people-oriented due to being raised in human care, they still display the same social structure and natural behaviors of a wild wolf pack. To help encourage the wolves to use their wild instincts and practice these important behaviors, zookeepers are always looking for creative and new ways to use enrichment with them. However, while planning enrichment, they must not only consider the wolves’ individual needs and preferences, but they must also incorporate where each wolf ranks in the pack and try to minimize conflict when determining how enrichments will be used.
Meet The ‘Funny River Five’ Gray Wolf Pack
How to ID? Light Colored and bigger than than Huslia
Place in Pack: Ranked #1 – Alpha
Personality: As the biggest wolf, Hooper is more aggressive towards the other wolves, and usually gets his way. Because of his ranking, he is most likely to explore new things and is less cautious about new items, experiences, or training with staff.
How to ID?Light Colored and smaller than Hooper with reddish ears.
Place in Pack:Ranks #3 or #4, swapping with Gannett depending on the day
Personality: Huslia is shyer and more standoffish which can make her hard to train. She tends to spend her time away from the window and out of view under the pine trees with Gannett. Visitors often have a hard time spotting her.
How to ID? Light golden eyes, dark fur with more gray mixed in, fluffier fur than other dark wolves and smaller white patch on chest. Broader head than X-Ray. Often found by window with Hooper and X-Ray.
Place in Pack: #5 - Ranks at the very bottom – most submissive wolf
Personality: : Stebbins is the shiest, though he is bolder with people. He is usually the first to come up to the window and also good with training. He tends to stand back from the other wolves when confined to holding, often refusing to come in at night because of his submissiveness. He also likes to lay on exhibit with X-Ray and is easily spotted by people. Can be found laying with X-Ray on exhibit and easily seen.
*Gannett passed away in October 2021
How to ID?Dark with longer shiny grey coat, light blue eyes and white patch on chest, white on paw.
Place in Pack: Ranks #3 or #4, swapping with Huslia depending on the day.
Personality: Gannett is the most playful of all the wolves and usually has a lot of energy to play fight. She is often found resting and out of view underneath the pine trees with Huslia making it
How to ID? All black chest longer legs than Gannet and Stebbins. Narrower head than Stebbins. Two different colored eyes, one gold and one blue.
Place in Pack: #2 ranked – ranked just below Hooper.
Personality:X-Ray likes to play and is one of the easiest wolves to train with. He is often found climbing on exhibit features, usually getting up on his back legs to check out something. Can be found resting with Stebbins on exhibit and will also be one of the first wolves to the window when people walk by.
They love their rabbit feeding each week and knuckle bones. Bloodcicles are also a favorite treat.
Favorite Resting Location:
Underneath the large pine trees in back center park of exhibit.
Digging is a favorite which is why the exhibit has so many holes all of the time! Some also enjoy jumping up on the windows to look at guests. They can also be found tearing sticks/bark off of the trees to chew on that are not protected by fencing.
Enrichments with scents on them are the most popular – stinky and strong perfume is preferred. They love to roll around in the scent. That includes celery as a favorite too!
On hot summer days, they love wading in the pool to cool off.
People are also a great enrichment and they love interacting with them at the window!
Boomer balls, pine trees, wood with holes that have hidden treats.
Rubbing/scratching bodies on tines in the back of exhibit .
Least Favorite Enrichments
Tried a teeter totter dog obstacle course and they never even wanted to try it. They don’t like climbing on unstable exhibit features. They are also not as motivated to interact with enrichments that do not have food or a strong interesting smell.
Gray Wolves in the Wild
Gray wolves are they largest of all canines. While they are territorial, they are also very social and live in packs of around 6 to 8 wolves. They communicate through howling, body language and scent as they work together to hunt or assert their territory to other wolf packs. As a carnivore, they primarily eat the meat of larger prey such as deer, moose, caribou, and bison.
They also are considered a keystone predatory, keeping their ecosystems healthy and balanced. They help keep deer and elk populations in check, which can benefit many other plant and animal species. The carcasses of their prey also help to redistribute nutrients and provide food for other wildlife species, like grizzly bears and scavengers.
Gray Wolf Conservation
Gray Wolves (Canis lupus) were once among the most widely distributed wild mammals, with a range covering two-thirds of the US. Due to the destruction of their habitat and persecution by humans, they now occupy about 10 percent of their historic range in the continental 48 United States. Due to consistent protections that have been enacted over time and strong conservation efforts, the wolf has made a successful comeback with populations now stable. Though, as of January 2021 they were removed from the endangered species act protection.
How can you Help?
Help spread awareness in your community by educating your family, neighbors, and friends about the importance of wolves.
Play WolfQuest($): Ever wondered what it is like to be a wolf? Through this interactive game, you will see through the eyes of a young gray wolf on a quest for survival in Yellowstone National Park. After venturing out on your own, you’ll have the opportunity to explore, hunt, find a mate, establish territory, and raise your own family.
Moose Mission: There is a strong link between gray wolf and moose populations in Minnesota. Unfortunately, moose in Minnesota underwent a recent period of alarming decline. The Minnesota Zoo has partnered with researchers from across the state to unlock the science behind the moose decline. Check out our new online platform to discover more and try your hand at helping manage moose populations and see just how important gray wolves are to ensuring moose are around for a long time!
Enrichment gives animals something to think about, encourages exercise, and gives animals a degree of control of their environment by giving them choices. Basically, enrichment helps keep life interesting and challenging.
Enrichment can come in a variety of forms including environmental, novelty, sensory (scent and sound), behavioral training, dietary, and social.
• Providing live and artificial plants for shade and barriers
• Using trees, ropes, or rock work to increase and enhance living space
• Using puzzle feeders that offer a challenging method of obtaining food
• Housing a variety of compatible animals from the same habitat together
• Applying scents (spices, food, animal-lure, dung) around an exhibit
• Simulating or using real prey items in predator exhibits to encourage stalk-and-chase behaviors
• Playing predator or prey sounds to encourage instinctive responses
Check out the videos below of our animals having fun with enrichment!
Join the ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge, presented by Flint Hills Resources, next school year!
If you are a grade 3-12 teacher looking for ways to engage your students in authentic integrated STEM, join the ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge presented by Flint Hills Resources next school year! Participation is completely free! Teachers will receive access to a free training, design challenge supporting curriculum resources for both in person an digital learning formats, and ongoing implementation support throughout the school year from Zoo education staff. Registration will open for the 2022-2023 school year this spring.