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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Want to learn more about penguins and alligators at the Jacksonville Zoo? Thanks to a partnership with the Florida Museum of Natural History, there’s an app for that.

The museum created the free apps based on exhibits at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens to provide visitors with an interactive, educational experience, but the mobile technology allows users to learn more about the animals from any location, said Dale Johnson, Florida Museum project coordinator.

Both apps, designed for children 6 and older, are available through Apple’s iTunes store for the iPod touch and iPhone, and intended to be used by the entire family while exploring the zoo.

“The apps direct visitor attention to specific animal behaviors using mobile devices as a learning tool,” said Betty Dunckel, director of informal science education at the Florida Museum.

“Call the Wild: Penguins” guides zoo visitors on a mission to find Putty the Magellanic Penguin. The app gives users clues to find Putty and explains why it is important for zookeepers to be able to identify each animal at the zoo. It also illustrates the penguin’s habitat and diet, and describes how to protect and conserve these flightless birds.

“Call the Wild: Alligators” helps visitors discover the characteristics and behaviors of these powerful reptiles.

“The app gets users to observe alligators and think about how their movements within the exhibit help regulate their body temperatures,” Dunckel said.

It also allows users to compare alligators to Komodo Dragons, watch videos and learn about alligator diets, reproduction, adaptations and conservation.

The apps were developed as part of a National Science Foundation project investigating the use of mobile technology to engage zoo visitors in learning about the nature of science. Before developing the apps, project researchers experimented with a variety of techniques to engage visitors using mobile phones.

“Mobile phone technology remains a somewhat untapped educational resource,” said Jaret Daniels, co-principal investigator on the project and head of exhibits and public programs at the Florida Museum. “It offers new opportunities to deliver dynamic content and new ways for zoo visitors to learn and interact.”

The project’s other principal investigators were Paul Boyle of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and Joy Jordan, formerly with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Other partners include the Institute for Learning Innovation and Odysseus Mobile Computing.

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Source: Betty Dunckel, 352-273-2088,
Writer: Leeann Bright
Media contact: Paul Ramey, 352-273-2054,