West Tennessee STEM Hub

Memphis Zoo Herpetarium Project

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West TN Schools Accepted the STEM Challenge!

The West Tennessee STEM Hub sponsored the first annual STEM Challenge Summit on May 2, 2014 at the Memphis Zoo. Teams of students from five high schools and one middle school presented their plans for redesigning or renovating the zoo’s aging herpetarium. Two schools presented scale models of their designs.

View the Photos from the Event

East High School won in the first division; Southwind High School won the second division. Dresden Middle School won the middle school section.
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“Zoo officials were having some serious conversations about revising a part of the herpetarium to coincide with their proposed development of a Nile River exhibit,” said Dr. Alfred Hall, head of the West Tennessee STEM master teacher project. “We were able to take this real-world scenario and pose it to groups of teachers and students across West Tennessee and allow them to provide their own solutions.”

This project encouraged students to approach the situation from all aspects of STEM. The student teams had to consider the types of animals to be housed and maintained in their design including the variety of required environments and climates. They had to explore technology options for providing a safe and naturalistic habitat. In addition, the teams developed the actual structure including calculating the necessary space requirements for each animal. The STEM Hub Master Teachers created lesson plans and activities to help teachers prepare their students to participate in the challenge.

“We thought it would be really great. What better way to apply all these different aspect of STEM than to redo a building?” asked director of animal programs Matt Thompson. “Teachers and whole classes came to see the site and talk to us. They asked very specific questions about the animals. It was definitely not just something they talked about in class. I was very impressed.”

Are you ready to be challenged?

Established in 1906, the Memphis Zoo has not only been a staple in West Tennessee, but it has also become one of the top zoos in the county. However, maintaining the status of a world-class zoo doesn’t happen without a lot of planning, and the West TN STEM Hub is asking you to put your STEM skills to the test.

Officials at the zoo are in the process of redesigning some of the space in the Herpetarium (Reptile House), which was erected in 1960. While keeping the zoo’s primary mission in mind (to preserve wildlife through education, conservation, and research… providing a naturalistic and enriching sanctuary for our animals and a clean, friendly, entertaining, and educational experience for our guests), your challenge is to plan, redesign, and model a new Herpetarium for the Memphis Zoo.

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Questions to Consider...

As you complete this challenge, you will explore several aspects of STEM by responding to the following STEM Challenge Questions/Prompts:


  • What types of animals (species) will be housed/maintained in your design?
  • What environment(s) will need to be created/maintained for their well-being?
  • How will you care for the respective species (feeding, cleaning, monitoring of health)?


  • What steps will you take to maintain the proper environment/climate for the respective species in the Herpetarium?
  • Will that environment change (cool at night, dry and hot during the day)?
  • How would you use technology to provide a safe and naturalistic habitat?


  • What will your new Herpetarium look like? (2-dimensional draft/plan )
  • On what premise was your new design based? What issues are addressed? What problems does the new design solve?
  • Challenge Teams competing in the highest level of competition (Tier 1) will also prepare a 3-dimensional model of the new Herpetarium according to competition specifications.


  • How will you calculate and determine the best use of area on the existing footprint of the Herpetarium to redesign your new model.

Teachers...download these lesson plans to help with the project

The STEM Hub Master Teachers created lesson plans and activities to help teachers prepare their students to participate in the challenge.

Access The Portal

(new users must register to access the lessons and activities developed as part of the Challenge Summit)