Monthly Archives: October 2014

Sounds of the Seasons

By Helena Uber-Wamble, Alabama

As a bird educator, I notice that the changing of the seasons brings many different birds through our state, especially during migration. When I think of the seasons, I think of the many different sounds that are associated with them.

When I lived up north, the American Robin would announce spring-–literally! Even though some robins would stay the winter in back areas of the forest where the ground rarely saw snow and it stayed soft, they didn’t really sing. When the weather changed and many robins returned, it was if they greeted each other happily after the long absence. The robins sang “cheery, cheerio, cheer-up” from the first sign of light through the early morning. The energy in the air was filled with chatter as the returning robins began setting up their territories. Their cacophony of sound was amplified by all the other returning birds and life was good. Purple martins, warblers, chickadees, wood thrush, titmice and cardinals all communicated to establish their spot in and around the yard.

Down near the water’s edge in early spring, red-winged blackbird males return early to establish their territories in the reeds and cattails. They build several nests which they will present to the females and then let her choose where to lay her eggs. The males continue to guard the territory with the loud calls of “konka-a-ree,” flashing red epaulettes proudly perched atop the cattails.

Summer sounds slowly transition to crickets, cicadas, and katydids as they fill the night with the hum that starts at dusk and lulls us to sleep. During the day, grasshoppers and crickets take turns calling in the tall grass in the fields where meadowlarks and bluebirds feast. The sweet songs of meadowlark whistles cascade across the fields and slowly make a descending slur; listen closely and you can hear them sing “see-you-see-yer.” It is mesmerizing. Their songs are heard more than the bird is seen as they blend in to the grass and earthen shades. If you’re lucky enough, though, the bright yellow breast and belly with a black “v-shaped necklace” will be facing your way giving you a clear view of this stunning bird.

Hummingbirds visit feeders with their gentle humming of their wings. Many times you do not know the hummingbirds are there, as they perch quietly sipping the nectar you have provided. As the end of summer approaches, hummingbirds burst into scolding chatter as they chase other hummingbirds away from their food source. It is then that they need to “fatten-up” for their journey and are very defensive of the feeders.
Fall starts and the familiar Canada Geese flying in a “v-shape” head toward their southern wintering grounds. Even here in Alabama, geese re-group and fly to larger bodies of water. The geese seem to be in full party mode as the continuous, loud honking welcomes all the new arrivals at the “lake.” Owls begin their nightly hoots while looking for their mates, and to set up their nests to get ready to lay eggs and incubate through the winter. The soft “hoo-hoo-hooooo-hoo-hoo” can seem spooky if you aren’t familiar with it, and it is the call most associated with Halloween for that reason.

Here in my backyard, my favorite migrant shows up and fills my yard with its sweet song. Most migrants do not sing when they reach their wintering grounds, but the white-throated sparrow announces its arrival with its clear sweet whistled notes calling “Ohhh sweet, Ca-na-da, Ca-na-da, Ca-na-da,” as if pronouncing every syllable. It is a song I long to hear every fall and enjoy thoroughly throughout the winter season.

Winter brings a hush in the woods like no other. It is so quiet at times it is deafening! Sounds of rustling leaves that linger on the trees whisper to me to slow down, relax, hang-out, and reflect. Listen: as the light of dawn sends hues of golden rays across the sky, chickadees, cardinals, white-throated sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches and woodpeckers, who all love to visit the feeder, sing a greeting to the new day. During the day, geese greet one another at the pond, hawks call as pairs circle in flight, and at night if you listen closely, you may hear the faint “peent —peent—peent” of the woodcock near a field.

There are many more sounds out there, but you need to take a moment and listen for them. What do you hear in your area? How many sounds and songs of the birds change with the seasons? Do you pay attention to the same sounds as those around you, or do you let others dictate the sounds you hear? Many friends of mine find that the crack of a bat signals spring, summer is filled with the splash of those swimming in a pool; fall sounds are focused around bands playing and girls cheering at football games, while winter may be the dribbling of a ball down the court.

Outside there is an entire orchestra of sounds around us if you would just take a moment to stop and listen. Who knows what beautiful sounds and songs you might discover when you really listen to what is happening around you. Nature certainly fills our senses if only we would stop and listen.

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Greater Than or Equal To

As I bent over to tie my shoes, I puzzled that the tongue’s logo resembled a ≥. Not knowing whether KEEN was intentional in their design or whether it was my subconscious connecting the coming day’s activities to my thoughts on this blog, I began questioning myself. Was I greater than or equal to the task at hand? Could I bag this peak? How many more obstacles would I traverse? Cheering myself onward, I said to myself, “I must be ≥ the challenge, the purpose, the destination!” Then, the connection!

This past month, I had the pleasure of training educators, keepers, and volunteer coordinators at the Birmingham Zoo. As we discussed moving beyond inherent meaning and ascribing emotion, I revealed a personal, intimate story. Participants passed around an empty Welch’s grape juice bottle and described its meaning. Then, I told the story of Princess Grape Juice. At the conclusion, there was not a dry eye. Sniffles broke the silence. Naturally, many felt uncomfortable. Finally, someone spoke up. She questioned my use of personal story, emotion, and vulnerability in a professional setting touting that her previous career would not welcome such feeling in the work place.

My point had been made: emotional connections cultivated relationships not only between the audience and the resource (in this case, the training curriculum), but also between ourselves. So, I didn’t stop there! I snagged the opportunity to move beyond this training threshold, harnessing the connective power of the participant’s very word- vulnerability.

I think of vulnerability as emotional yin and yang. Defined as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”, it typically has a negative connotation; however, social scientist Brené Brown illustrates from over a decade of research that it is at the core of connection. For interpreters, our goal is creating emotional and intellectual connections. Brown, however, moves beyond our own field purporting that connection is the purpose for our very being.

“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering” (p.8, 2012). In her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brown writes that vulnerability is “the cradle of the emotions and experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity” (p. 34, 2012). And, because vulnerability is the foundation of feeling, when we dismiss it as weakness, we are confusing “feeling with failing and emotions with liabilities” (p. 35). Furthermore, if we want to fire hearts and minds both as interpreters and as interpretive trainers, “we have to learn how to own and engage with our vulnerability and how to feel the emotions that come with it” (p. 35). We must not shun emotion in the workplace, especially in a profession that champions connecting with heart, mind, and body!

Ultimately, our personal and professional peaks and valleys will continue; however, I challenge you to do as I did- double-knot your laces! Use personal story as an interpretive and professional development tool by allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to share yourself in order “to teach or move a process forward” because it “can be healthy and effective” (p. 162, 2012).

And, as I sit unlaced, I am reminded of what Ginni Rometty (2011) said prior to being named IBM’s CEO- “growth and comfort do not coexist.” Only if we dare to be > the challenge, whatever its form, are we able to grow beyond ourselves and approach our summit of self-actualization!

Oh, and if you are interested in Brene Brown’s work, check out her TEDtalk that has received more than five million hits and that has been translated into thirty-eight languages (p. 14, 2012); or check out another of her books such as The Gifts of Imperfection or I Thought It Was Just Me. Better yet, make it a twofer! I read Daring Greatly at the same time as I read this month’s NAI Book Club selection, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High. Collectively, they make for dynamite reading!

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Outreach Education Programs

By Stephenie Berggrun

Many interpretive organizations offer outreach services. These services include bringing the organization’s resources, collections, and educational programs to other institutions. Outreach services help reach groups that may not otherwise be exposed and provide another means of fulfilling an organization’s mission. Opportunities include community festivals, professional development events and school presentations. Some organizations limit their outreach services to the county, others are capable of sending educators across state lines.

Along with the benefits outreach programs create, come some challenges. Outreach educators must discover ways of protecting their materials during transport, getting the word out about their mobile services, coordinating with schools on program space, and so on.

At The Schiele Museum of Natural History in Gastonia, NC, we are starting our outreach program back up after a lull due to funding. One of the challenges we are facing involves growing our business and getting the word out that our outreach program is back. We are mailing targeted program flyers to nearby schools with mixed success. We are also periodically posting outreach related information on our Facebook page. One of the difficult decisions we currently face is will selectively providing some free programs create future revenue? With our program’s future success riding on this year’s revenue, it’s a risky choice.

I welcome any advice from fellow outreach educators. Let’s open a dialogue and brainstorm ways to solve common problems.

What challenges do you face? How do you overcome them? Share your thoughts here and on our Facebook group. Or, contact me directly at

Thank you!

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“Take a Hike!”….at another interpretive center


How many of you go hiking?
When you go hiking what happens?
How do you feel?
What do you discover?
What do you think?
Are you rushed?
What happens to your heart rate?

Going for a hike tends to open up our senses and put us at ease depending on the difficulty of the hike. Often this planned activity can open us up to things much more than just a prairie, forest, or beach. We discover new things in great focus and grand horizons once we hit the trail.  We see and hear things in a new perspective. Our minds have the ability to think without the interruption of work allowing us to reflect, goal set, brainstorm, relax, and simply sort things out.

As interpreters I encourage you to “take a hike” at another interpretive center. Whether a nature center, history museum, art museum, zoo, aquarium, or children’s museum make the time for the professional interpreter inside you. By getting out of your office, cubicle, or facility and visiting another interpretive center your “professional brain” reaps many of the same rewards as the hike out in nature. Visiting another center gives you the opportunity to see and hear new things in a new perspective, relate, and recharge.

Go visit that county historical museum that you pass each day, call up your Region 3 buddy and set up a site visit, take advantage of the regional and national conferences that often have site visits to other centers.

Happy Hiking!

p.s. there are 4 spots still available for the Interpreters Road Show pre workshop in Denver as part of the National Interpreters Workshop
(pictured…Ashley Bradt has worked at the South Carolina Aquarium for a number of years yet never walked the 20 steps to Fort Sumter National Monument until yesterday)

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Climate Change Conundrum

By Ashley Bradt

When given the task to come up with a way to convey the difficult topic of climate change, my head was spinning. Politics, arguments, personal agendas, oh my! The last thing I wanted to do at my happy place (work) was get into an argument about politics. How was I going to avoid it? As soon as I use the words climate change, some people will tune out. It was a task I knew needed to be done and was vitally important to our Earth, but couldn’t somebody else do it? Wasn’t that Al Gore’s job? Although so many people hate him now… wouldn’t that turn into me!?! What a conundrum….

What if it didn’t have to do with politics? What if we tricked people into learning about climate change without them realizing it? After all… climate change doesn’t have to have a political agenda attached to it. It is simply the way the average climate of our Earth has been changing over a given time. And that’s what we’d teach people. Not the controversial issues, but the simple definitions and facts. Then, hopefully, we get the wheels turning and people can make up their minds after they have the facts.

Next, we had to come up with a fun way to get these facts across.. to all ages. We created a “climate change cart” which is an interactive cart set up with props, activities, and graphs. Everything we need to talk climate change in a positive way. It took a lot of research to be ready. We put together easy how to guides for the activities and an extensive background info sheet for volunteers and staff to read. We made sure we were very comfortable with all of the information out there, the myths and misconceptions included. Training the volunteers and staff took a lot of time. They were apprehensive at first and overwhelmed with the topic and amount of information/graphs. We decided to focus on the fun activities and less on the heavy graphs. We also allowed them to change the name of the cart to the “Go Green” cart. This made the cart easier to approach by guests and still allowed us to talk about climate change in a positive, “Go Green!” way. We focus on what we can do to help the plants and animals on our Earth. We touch briefly on the negative things that are happening… for example, sea levels rising, ocean acidification, and polar ice caps. But, we always pair the negative with something positive that we can do as citizens to make a difference. We have found that this is very important. Keep it light, positive, and fun! 🙂 We give the kids a “go green” stamp after they do an activity and hopefully they leave feeling inspired.

One activity that you can do is about ocean acidification. If you put a seashell (a familiar one so the kids can relate) in a cup of water and then another seashell in a cup that is slightly more acidic (you can do this with lemon juice), you can actually see the bubbles coming from the shell. This helps the guests see first hand why it is difficult for animals like mollusks and gastropods to make their shells in water that is too acidic. You could even have a hermit crab or whelk out for them to touch. This type of interpretation makes the topic more real to them instead of showing them a bunch of graphs.

The goal of the climate change cart is to hopefully have guests leave with a better understanding of what climate change is, how its affecting our planet in a negative way, and what we can do to make a positive change. With motivating words and fun activities, we have found it to be an effective way to get that tough topic across to our guests. 🙂

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