You are a teacher. It doesn’t matter if you are a tour guide, a sign maker, a brochure author, a docent trainer, or a visitor greeter; you teach others about stuff. Important stuff. And sometimes stuff can get pretty complicated—for example, how would you tell a five year old about how a volcano works? A powerpoint lecture is not a good option. So instead, the vinegar and baking soda volcano, that time-honored demonstration that has been exhibited in countless science fairs through millennia– was born. Kids don’t get excited because you are explaining the difference between phreatomagmatic or phreatic eruptions (two of the types of eruptions), they are more interested in seeing stuff blow up (who isn’t?). And in the process of seeing stuff blow up—they learn something. Which is our main goal as a teacher.
So I’ve always been fascinated by demonstration areas in our parks and centers. In my observation, these are visited more often than the static exhibits. And I’m surprised that nature centers and parks don’t have more demonstration areas than they do—as it offers an opportunity for process revealed. In other words, showing how stuff works.
Take how water works in our landscape as an example. Most of the time, rain water falls at a time we are inside, and the water magically disappears into a complicated network of drain inlets, pipes, culverts, ditches, and ultimately—rivers and oceans. How can we reveal the process of water cycling even when water isn’t present? One way is through a series of interpretive water collection or conveyance demonstrations.
Non-point source water pollution is a major concern by the U.S. EPA, which lists it as a priority problem that we all contribute towards. As a result, a number of best management practices, or water treatment techniques, have been developed to store and cleanse rainwater. Some pretty cool ones at that. These include green roofs, green walls, artistic rain gutters, rain barrels, cisterns, runnels, crafted drain grates, dry swales, pools, ponds…..the lists are exhaustive. It reveals the process of water falling on our properties and what happens to it, and they create very teachable moments for visitors. Maybe ones that they can incorporate into their own backyards.
So as you walk around your facility, what are those potential teachable moments? Is that front parking lot conveying your mission statement? Can you set the tone for the experiences that lie ahead for the visitor? Can you describe the process behind what they see? Even the most mundane of functional site items (fences, recycling, walls, roofs, lighting) have the potential to be a teaching moment. How many can you see?