Monthly Archives: March 2015

A juicy peach

"Gaffney Peachoid" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -

“Gaffney Peachoid” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Have you watched “House of Cards” on Netflix? Remember the episode during the first season when Congressman Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, has to return to his home district to settle a controversy over a giant peach towering over the town of Gaffney, SC?

Maybe, like me, you’ve driven by this Southern landmark many times on your travels through the Sunny Southeast, or maybe you even live nearby, but you and I (and the producers of House of Cards) probably have this in common: we see , in this roadside peach, an object “ripe” for interpreting (pardon the pun).

Personally, my thoughts don’t go first to the peach growers’ industry (and the startling fact that the Palmetto State grows twice as many peaches as the Peach State), or a Roald Dahl story, or even the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company who built the peach in the 80s but “isn’t in Chicago, doesn’t build bridges and doesn’t use iron.” Though these are all intriguing, my own connection to the Peachoid lies underground.

In my day job, when I’m not webmaster and blog coordinator for the Region or volunteering at the Cradle of Forestry in America Historic Site (the place that got me interested in interpretation), I’m Assistant Director of a small nonprofit called Clean Water for North Carolina. I wear many hats, including a few that involve outreach and education on that most unsexy of topics: groundwater.

Groundwater model

Modeling groundwater contamination in a classroom.

Many resources have an instant “wow” factor, something to provoke a sense of curiosity and grab the audience’s attention right away: surface water woos them with waterfalls, streams, and lakes; forests have trees and wildlife, mushrooms and hidden trails; rocks and minerals can be handled and observed. People naturally gravitate toward that which they can see, hear, touch, smell. Those of us who interpret groundwater belong in the same category as oceanographers and astronomers – we have to find ways to shine light on the distant, the unseen, the dark depths. Groundwater educators are often relegated to classroom tricks: pricy mail-order model kits, demonstrations with sponges and jugs of water; the ever-present blue and red food coloring.

And that’s what makes the Peachoid so “juicy” to me. Like other water towers (though with much more sweet southern flair), it is one of few visible signs of the vast, underappreciated, precious water resources beneath our feet. The columns of water reaching skyward remind us of the plentiful water underground but also of our utter dependence on it. Once tainted, even our human ingenuity may not be enough to clean it up again.

So next time you’re driving by the Peachoid with others, strike up a conversation. Yours might be about agriculture or iron; mine would go something like this. “Hey, look! A giant peach! What could it be doing in the middle of upstate South Carolina? Have you ever seen something like this?” Before you know it, we’ll be deep in conversation about the aquifers that millions of southerners rely on to supply water to their taps.

What landmarks near you are jumping-off points for interpretation?

Categories: Discussion topic, Interpretation tools | Leave a comment

Interpreting the Green

by Helena Uber-Wamble

With spring just arrived and signs of green popping out everywhere, it is very fitting that St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with many folks “wearing the green”. Have you ever thought of all the shades of green out there? Kelly green is of course the color most often worn on March 17, for all those true Irish folks and those that wish they were. Then there are those folks who just want to be supportive by wearing of any “shade” of green.

What actually popped into your mind when you read this title? Did you think I was talking about money–that mysterious amount that we try to earn? Did your mind go to golf and those that play the links and “interpret the green” before they play their ball? Or did recycling and environmental issues come to mind?

Now, think of the color green–what shade was it? Was it the color of money? Was it Shamrock or Kelly Green worn typically on St. Patrick’s Day? Was it Army green commonly found in camouflage pants? Are you a person that typically associates colors with food, so avocado green, olive green and green bananas popped into your thoughts?

Spring leavesIn this case, I am referring to the glorious green that is popping out all around us as the spring season hits. It refers to the glossy deep green broad leaves of the daffodils, the soft fuzzy light-green buds of the red-buckeye as it expands to reveal the leaflets hidden inside; it is the shade of clovers springing up in the yellow-green grass and it is the slender blue-green stalks of wild onions raising taller than all the other plants in the yard.
Notice that the deep duller hues of the pine trees seem to melt into the landscape as the brighter splotchy green leaves of the trout lilies and the lobed leaves of the bloodroot emerge. Ferns unfold their soft-light green fiddleheads and tiny bright buds begin to swell up revealing even brighter green hues. It is a color that energizes you and fills your emotional needs with hope and an extra pep in your step especially as more green fills the empty spaces of the forest that just a few weeks ago looked so bleak.

Green is the color of life. It brings forth a feeling of hope that winter has packed up and is gone. Dorothy found hope in the Emerald City, a coincidence? — I think not! Green is just a happy secondary color, coming out of the blending of yellow and blue combinations. Over 58 colors are recognized as some tint or shade of green. It is a color that can shimmer on the backs of ruby-throated hummingbirds and yet be as dark as hunter green of the forest. There is no better time than spring to appreciate all the different shades of green.

Now how would you “interpret the green”?

Categories: Interpretation tools | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Interactive Technology in the Modern Zoo and Aquarium

Guest Author: Drew Heyward, South Carolina Aquarium

Technology and education are often linked in formal education settings but we are just beginning to explore technology’s role in informal education environments. In general, people’s attitude towards technology remains positive, with studies revealing that museums with technology see visitor experience improve4. Attitudes toward technology outside of the educational spectrum remain high as well, with 67% of subjects maintaining that they do not feel overwhelmed by the amount of technology and information available in today’s environment8. These general attitudes have prompted the South Carolina Aquarium to explore new technologies within their interpretive design. Interactive iPads have recently been added to existing exhibit spaces and plans are in the works to invest in additional iPad programming for use in roaming educational initiatives.

Interactive technology at VA aquariumZoos and aquariums regard education as a primary goal of the visitor experience. Because of this, many education departments align their programming to fit national science standards. National standards are currently encouraging inquiry-based learning in the core of the science curriculum9. Learning rooted in inquiry is an active process of engaging and manipulating objects, experiences, and generating curiosity about observations made1. While inquiry-based education practices are being incorporated into informal learning environments, the task of facilitating these inquiries can be overwhelming and sometimes impossible. The use of technology as a facilitator of inquiry and a tool for interpretation could impact a larger number of people within exhibits and galleries. If successful inquiry-based curriculum is developed for technologies, this medium has tremendous potential to be replicated and easily integrated across a wide range of learning environments.

This idea is not altogether novel. We have seen an influx of learning technologies pop up in informal education venues. After decades of intense promotion by corporations, policy makers, and parents, most people have far more access to mobile technologies in their daily life than ever before3. The social media buzz has added to this demand, giving rise to the integration of mobile technologies in many new exhibits at zoos and aquariums. Quick response codes, hash tags and Facebook pages are impacting visitors long after they have left the attraction. This is expanding the potential for learning well beyond the walls of the institution.

Many elements of technology are added to exhibits to increase visitor retention within those exhibits and extend the overall stay of the guests using them. The use of “dwell time” as a measurement of public interest is not a foreign concept in the zoo and aquarium world. Many institutions research how long visitors remain in exhibits and use that information when designing new experiences2. The importance of visitor retention should not be diminished. While an enriching environment is imperative to promoting true learning, the best educational situations in the world will not lead to learning unless the visitor spends some time engaging with the exhibition in which they are present6. Since informal educators are dealing with non-captive and diverse audiences, the struggle is how to retain visitors while relaying important educational material to a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

General attitudes towards technology remain high, however it’s difficult to gauge visitor attitudes about technology within the zoo and aquarium framework. Some research suggests that visitors value zoos and aquariums as ‘‘natural’’ experiences and use them as an escape from aspects of everyday life5. If this is the case, could technology negatively influence visitor experience? This is a difficult question to answer. The struggle is maintaining relevance without losing the escapism that comes with a visit to the attraction. Drawing on other’s experiences, you can make informed decisions on where that balance lies within your own institution.

Choosing the correct form of technology can be a difficult challenge as well. Tablets and their interactive applications allow learners to participate in inquiries that would not be possible without their presence. Tablets, phones and computers all have the ability to progress curiosity with an array of digital media, much of which is featuring things guests would never be able to encounter on an average visit. Tablets in particular, allow visitors to explore something recognizable. The Pew Internet Project found that 19% of Americans own a tablet of some kind with 83% of those tablets being iPads10. Allowing guests to access technology that is both familiar and novel could spark curiosity and enhance learning.

The South Carolina Aquarium has recently added iPads to their exhibits and plans on equipping volunteers and staff with additional tablets for mobile interpretation. These units include touch screen maps, images, video, sound bites and educational information. To avoid taking away from the escapism that comes with a visit to our attraction, the Aquarium has developed programs that encourage interaction with the exhibits themselves. When looking at the results from observational studies conducted at our facility, it is suggested that iPads within a gallery do not negatively influence the interactive experience but rather supplement the exhibit in a positive way.

Many of the interactions in galleries containing iPads were sustained longer and therefore acted as ‘speed bumps’ for visitors making their way through the Aquarium. Pictures and prompts that ask questions about exhibits, specific animals or areas of the Aquarium have sparked visitor interest about various topics, including conservation, donations and animal care. Providing purpose and narrative to your technology is imperative to providing an exceptional product. This is why inquiry and interpretation is so important when developing technology for exhibits. Technology’s presence for its novelty alone doesn’t always accomplish educational goals.

As it has done at the South Carolina Aquarium, technology can provide an innovative and immediately attractive environment. While a gentle balance is necessary, the use of technology within exhibits can allow for an enhanced guest experience. If continued inquiry-based curriculum is developed for these technologies, zoos and aquariums can be industry leaders in integrating them across a wide range of learning environments.

Categories: Interpretation tools, Technology | Leave a comment


Love is the essence of being and therefore, the essence of interpretation. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8 , English Standard Version). Love lasts beyond interpretation in the actions of those we love.

At our core, interpreters love: this love of nature, love of history, love of people, love of adventure, and love of place touches everything we do. It is the Golden Rule, the respectful workplace, the “Leave No Trace” principles, the humbling of beauty, the commitment to a cause, the passion and enthusiasm. So paramount is love that Tilden describes it as “The Priceless Ingredient.” To be an interpreter, we must be in love. Tilden writes that,

If you love the thing you interpret, and love the people who come to enjoy it, you need commit nothing to memory. For, if you love the thing, you not only have taken the pains to understand it to the limit of your capacity, but you also feel its special beauty in the general richness of life’s beauty…. You are to love people in the sense that you never cease trying to understand them and to realize that whatever faults they have, whatever levity, whatever ignorance, they are not peculiar (1977, p. 90).

In so doing, an interpreter conveys contagious enthusiasm and purposeful passion leading to our own personal and professional credibility as well as our own individual style. This style, communicated through the universal language of love, transforms something foreign into something familiar thereby opening hearts and minds to change.

Cultivating intimacy can be accomplished by story! Story is only as powerful, however, as the relevance it has in our lives- “whatever simultaneously connects to something relevant and meaningful to your listeners and gives them a taste of who you are, works” (Simmons, 2006, p. 6). Because story has meaning, it engages us on a personal level. Ultimately, the story creates a life of its own and becomes the listener’s story as much as our own. Simmons writes that “story is as close as you can get to taking someone else for a walk in your shoes” (2006, p. 44). Similarly, Tilden writes that a storyteller “will find that his hearers are walking along with him- are companions on the march. At some certain point, it becomes their story as much as his” (1977, p. 31). This ownership provides empowerment for listeners and credibility for the story teller- both critical ingredients to successful training. Combined, professional growth results.

To change the world and to affect professional climate change, interpretative messages and adult learning opportunities must live eternal. They must go beyond a day with a nature guide “and give a landmark to his mental horizon that will stand out through life” (Mills, 1990, p. 130). And, because we live in an age saturated with technology and information, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough and to be in love enough that we are able to adapt and evolve with our audience’s needs. Without providing a safe, non judgmental environment and without modeling our own vulnerability, inspiration and excellence become unattainable.

Whether the goal of interpretation is protection, preservation, or stewardship, and whether the goal of the interpretive trainer is professional growth, inspiration, or success, hopefully, the end result will surpass our individual human experiences and last because it exists at a level apart from the material world. By loving ourselves and our craft; by embracing positive psychology through vulnerability and change; and by instilling interpretive principles into professional development, we can surpass mere human experience and create opportunities for self-discovery, for growth.

I believe that interpretation, through love, can lead to enlightenment; a higher, celestial place, both personally and professionally; and our harmonious collective consciousness.


Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2008). Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck (Revised ed.). London: Arrow Books.

Mills, E. (1990). Adventures of a Nature Guide. Friendship, WI: New Pass Press.

Simmons, A. (2006). The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling (Revised ed.). New York: Basic Books.

Tilden, F. (1977). Interpreting Our Heritage (3rd ed.). Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Categories: General, Interpretation tools, Jobs / Professional Development | Leave a comment

Mentors – Your “Interpretive Helpline”

Degrees, trainings, on the job experience, certificates, and conferences are all great ways to enhance your interpretive growth.  What do you do when you need to talk to someone immediately and can’t wait on a book, training, or conference?  Contact a mentor!  Mentors can be your “go to hotline” when you need to chat and gain valued perspective.  How many of you have them?  Where do you find them? How much do they cost and what’s the value?

Mentors come in many shapes and sizes.  Perhaps it’s a former coach that taught you, “You have 5 minutes to pout about it and then we need to move on.” A former boss who shared, “Don’t complain about what you allow!” The Vice President of an organization sharing, “Put it in a bubble and (insert hand motions)….let it go.” It could be as simple as watching an NFL coach or other leader of a group addressing adversity during a press conference.

The point is they’re all around us throughout our career and cost nothing but an email, phone call, and “thank you”.  It can be quick advice or regular check-ins. The opportunity to seek them out quickly and receive their quick points of perspective can help you RELATE in times of uncertainty, fear, in the midst of challenges, or to motivate you and kick you in the rear.  At the end of the day it’s an opportunity to take a breather, calm down, learn, and get another perspective helping you and your organization.

While organizations like NAI which is currently looking into mentoring opportunities, or the Association for Nature Center Administrators (ANCA) who already has an established mentoring program in place, look around and think back on the folks you’ve admired as potential mentors. Ask them if they’d be willing to chat!Motivation for Life

Moreover are you mentoring the next generation? What can you pass on? What might you learn?

Go forth and mentor or mentee!

Categories: Jobs / Professional Development | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: