When they entered the gymnasium, many students at Sunny Pointe Elementary in Blue Springs bore the amazed look of someone about to have a whole-new-world experience.

Actually, it was the same world. It just looked rather neat.

Staff from the Kansas City Zoo visited Sunny Pointe on Monday, trying out a new “Visit from Earth” education experience that features a giant, inflatable Earth that is perfectly to scale.

The zoo just obtained the inflatable Earth this year and has tried out the new educational program in Liberty and now at Blue Springs, said Stephanie Reynolds, the zoo's director of education. It hopes to roll out a full schedule of outreach opportunities for the next school year.

“We're using it as our pilot group,” Reynolds said. “We try to think of things we can do for outreach, and this teaches about conservation and habitats.”

“Not all schools can afford field trips to the zoo, and this is another thing where we can come to them. “The kids love it, and we put it up at the zoo and had our board members walk inside. The kids – you can see it on their faces.”

Monday's lesson for 11 classes of third, fourth and fifth graders had to do with migration – specifically, the little Arctic tern bird that flies up to 56,000 miles round-trip annually from the Antarctic coast to the Northern Hemisphere.

Zoo staff had squares set up around the gym floor, and the students (birds) charged from the end of the gym to points around the Earth. With each new scenario – such as a weather disaster, an oil spill, illegal hunting, or a new conservation law – they took away squares or added some back and reduced the number of birds per square.

“There was a law passed to protect this area, so I'll add two habitats and bring back five birds,” an instructor said.

“There was an oil spill, so we're going to take one habitat here,” one said later.

“Nooo!” a student cried, playing along.

“Did I die again?” another student asked after another unfortunate event.

The students then had a final discussion inside, where the inflatable Earth offers a reverse view. That part surprised fourth grade teacher Lindsey Walton.

“I think it's cool to have a larger-than-life scale, and it's interactive,” she said. “They're learning how people's actions affect the whole globe.”