When Orbi Dubai first opened, it heavily marketed itself as more than another entertainment offering in Dubai.
With video content developed by BBC Earth, fused with entertainment technology from SEGA, Orbi offers an immersive edutainment experience that Majid Al Futtaim Ventures describes as a combination of a museum and living activity. Given its educational aspect, Orbi realised early on that schools would benefit greatly from what it had to offer.
"For the first time there's really a place to take your children somewhere in Dubai for three or four hours and get a learning experience, but even better if you can engage schools. The content here is very powerful for schools," says BBD Education owner and chairman Professor Ralph Tabberer.
To this end, Orbi tapped BBD Education to produce learning guides that teachers can using when planning trips to Orbi. The project first began with an analysis of various curricula offered in UAE schools, including IB, British, American and Indian, particularly for primary school.
"We looked at how much of the curricula relates to what's offered at Orbi, and it's about half the content of the primary curricula. There's so much on animals and zoology, there's so much on nutrition, habitat, geology, under the sea," Tabberer
Explaining the partnership with BBD Education, Majid Al Futtaim's senior marketing manager leisure and entertainment Hagar Heshmat says: "We started exploring a partnership with BBD because we wanted to have a credible educational endorsement and content that will be mapped to the UAE curriculum. This will make Orbi, as an experience and content, legitimate for different ages.
"We shared with DDB our aim, and the content, and they spent an extensive amount of time and effort in ensuring that the content that is delivered to the teachers and the education sector exactly meets the expectations and needs of the students and teachers and will be a complementary element to the academic content."
The first school to sign up for the programme is Newlands School, which opened in September in the Al Warqaa neighbourhood, making it the perfect pilot school for Orbi, given its location within City Centre Mirdif.
Education Journal Middle East visited Orbi when Newlands was hosting an information morning for parents of the school.
To design part of the school's curriculum around Orbi, particularly in subjects such as Science, Maths, English and Geography, teachers first visited Orbi to explore the 11 exhibits, which offer over 40 individual activities. Within those 11 exhibits, four attractions each dedicated to the ocean, mountain gorillas, elephants and planet earth are the main draw.
Newlands School founding principal Jane Whitby explains: "What we don't want is what a lot of children experience, which is them just coming on a trip and leaving. That's just not enough really, so Orbi provides an opportunity for us to prepare the children in school, get them to be asking the questions, thinking outside of the box, analysing what they already know, what do they want to know, what do they think they know. Then they come here and experience it, and go back to the school for enrichment, for challenge, for consolidation of learning, for exploring all they've already learned."
During the initial visit, each Newlands teacher chose four main exhibits to focus on and created lesson plans to aid learning through visits to Orbi.
"I gave the teachers freedom to choose how they want to use this in their class for their age group. Some of them made lesson plans for poetry, some for maths. It certainly supports a values curriculum that Newlands will have, which is a really interesting curriculum. It totally changes the way children behave and function and learn," Whitby notes.
In the end, Whitby says she received 44 lesson plans from teachers. "That's 44 good plans from just the first session, with lots of good questioning, lots of opportunities for challenge, lots of differentiation, lots of useful ICT," Whitby points out.
Students and teachers will now choose between sensory visits and learning trips, and the older children will have the opportunity to research scientific topics through Orbi.
The scope for experience-based research is certainly exciting. From rushing rivers and erupting volcanoes to freezing polar landscapes, or the African savanna, Orbi places offers no shortage of learning experiences.
"Students might be looking at volcanoes in school for example, and they'll be introduced to the concept and the science behind them. But then to come here and actually just stand while all that magma is emerging and coming around their feet, you've then got an experience you can use. And for teachers, those experiences are real assets in the classroom because the kids remember it, they feel it, so therefore you can use that to reinforce learning. That's the attraction to me of the centre it creates experiences which link to the work in school, and I think it's unique for that because it's the only place you can visit the Dolomites and the Grand Canyon or the bottom of the sea," Tabberer enthuses.
Given the enthusiastic response from Newlands, BBD Education is now working on reaching out to other schools in Dubai. Already on board is Victory Heights Primary School, while BBD also recently hosted an information session for over 100 teachers from Dubai schools.
"We've got lots of ideas, lots of model lesson plans. What we'd like to do is create that community where you can share. We look at simple things... for example we've got a few word games based on some of the exhibits that relate to habitats or animal behaviour. For instance, how do the meerkats work as a family, how do the gorillas care for their young? So the resources we've built are a combination of lesson plans and activities," Tabberer explains.
BBD Education is also working on an individual basis with schools to help them plan their visits, whether they're once every term or more frequently.
With teaching guides for primary school teachers now ready and available to download, BBD Education is working on student guides to help students and families explore new ways of experiencing Orbi.
"That's one of the laws of education globally isn't it? The communities and societies which do best are really not those with just good schools. They also have very good home learning going on, and that's what we'd like to encourage," Tabberer states.