Thursday, May 22, 2014

Certified Interpretive Guide Training

This last week I attended Certified Interpretive Guide (CIG) Training through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at McCormick's Creek State Park. The state gathers new and returning seasonal naturalists for 4 days of training each year, with the add on bonus option of CIG certification through the National Association of Interpretation. Beyond the state park naturalists, many Indiana Master Naturalists who are involved as volunteers and in paid positions around the state were involved in the training.

During our first afternoon, there were several stations set up to explore various principles of Tilden. As I tried to wrap my mind around Tilden's principles, these key words stood out: RELATE, REVELATION, ART, PROVOCATION, WHOLE, and CHILDREN. Tildren's Principles of Interpretation are the basic building blocks of the interpretation field. To understand these principles more, we visited stations focused on having a unique approach with children that is more interactive and playful while learning about butterflies by Jessica Rosier from Mounds State Park. We were provoked about deer and the management through stories by Marjorie Hershman from Pokagon State Park. We've enjoyed programs and interacting with her at the Nature Center there. Others related the principles through cattails, making butter, and more.

The campfire program on the first night was excellent! These expert story tellers used bird calls, props, and movement to weave stories of snakes and wild turkeys. Jarrett Manek from O'Bannon Woods State Park. Here is a video of him talking about the historical aspects of his area. 

I will say, his turkey interpretation was quite entertaining! This was really a theme that I gathered throughout the training--STORY! I just saw a quote on the NAI Facebook page that read, "People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it's the other way around." --Sir Terry Pratchett

Throughout the week, many of us were working on our Certified Interpretive Guide Training. We scoured the needed books to understand concepts of interpretation better, staying up late at night and working on our presentations. Study, study, study! I enjoyed the books--there is great information in them for anyone working in natural resources and I will even try a few things here on my blog from the information! 

Early in the morning, we were treated to a bird walk with Fred Bumgardner and Fred Wooly. We saw pileated woodpckers and warblers. Check out the holes in the tree by the Canyon Inn! What a specimen!

We had a few choices for classes. I choice one on using technology outside. Studies have shown children are more satisfied if technology is included in nature experiences. Instead of "unplugging", perhaps we should "plug into nature'. I know my kids enjoy going geocaching. A few mock geocaches were set up showing ways to use geocaches in an interpretive plan to showcase the history and nature of a site.

We also checked out QR codes, too. We used our smart devices to learn more about nature and history in the area. 

We also talked about different apps that can be used with nature, like Leaf Snap or Project Noah. 

Later, Brad Bumgardner spoke about Tangibles and Intangibles, using a moving story about the whooping crane. He had a wing of a whooping crane that shot over Indiana.  This bird was on the brink of extinction in the 1940s with only 15 surviving at that time. Through concerned efforts, ultralight planes, and protection of this bird, it is still going with a population of about 600 today. The crane was shot while flying by an 18 year old in 2009. He was only fined $1 at a county court. These cases are now filed at a federal court level due to the implications. The intangible aspects of this story included the emotions, donations, caring, and volunteers to make the whooping crane conservation programs work. Instead of just telling us about the structure of the wing, we learned about the story of this bird, it's struggles, and then the inspired response to preserve this bird. In short, "tell an incredible story" and persuade people without saying outright this is the thing to do.

I learned about a few new to me wildflowers going to the next program. The Fire Pink is on the left and the Shooting Star is on the right, with a wild geranium thrown in. Beautiful! I just planted some wild geranium in our front yard--I hope they survive the trampling of 4 boys! 

At this point, Jill Vance from Monroe Lake did a model program on SLIME! She used video clips from the movie Ghost Busters to show how slime is used by various animals, like the Virigina Opossum,  various salamanders, snails, and humans. She said the average human produces 4 1/4 cups of slime a day--wowzers! Putting it in terms we can relate to really did the trick, as well as connecting it to one of her favorite classic movies. 

We had classes on engaging audiences, dealing with difficult audiences, social media, marketing, etc. Tim Cordell from Potato Creek State Park talked to us about our resources we interpret, looking at plants, animals, geology, hydrology, atmosphere, cultural resources, structures, artifacts, buildings, etc. He encouraged us to EXPLORE! Look at all the stuff in a center or at a site, review old records, keep records for the future, etc. Use caution before discarding old things, giving an example of a fire cracked rock or a piece of bark from a tulip tree that was 9 feet wide. He talked about sources of information from first hand accounts to secondary sources. When reviewing sources look at CRAAP--currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose. Of course, it's important to cite your sources. He especially stressed to get information from staff, office managers, and the maintenance people. In final words, he said, "To interpret it, you need to KNOW it!" 

We had a class exploring different types of crafts by Angie Manuel from Prophetstown State Park--the good, the okay, and the BAD!  There is a limited amount of time, so don't waste it on coloring sheets or bad crafts. Crafts accomplish several things, such as reinforcing or teaching a concept, allowing people to learn in a different way, or extending a visit. Be sure to plan for clean up time, find volunteers for prep work, and reach out to recycling centers. She had a variety of things to make, such as the spider below, suet cake holders, walking sticks, etc. 

Kristi Ridgway was recently hired as a full time interpretive naturalist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Her professional poise and expertise is evident as she showed the proper use of props in a presentation. To show the adaptations of a river otter, she dressed up a person to illustrate the special characteristics that make is so well adapted to water. She mentioned looking for perfect specimens, looking at the condition of the item, the size, visibility, etc. Props can be used as helpful hints to remind you of things to talk about. She encouraged us to lay out props, hide hints (like words on the back of a photo), etc. Don't hide behind props. She talked of "progressive disclosure", just bringing out the props as needed. This helps with audience focus and participation. The prop can be covered with fabric until needed or hidden behind a short screen. Props can help drive home themes, encourage a repetitive pattern, review and reinforce themes, and help the take home message be a call to action. 

At night, we had different night hike options, like an owl hike, a sensory hike, and others. I went on the senses hike and learned of various ways to make these work well, such as using sense canisters, cupping behind ears to enhance hearing, tools we might want, using quite, guided imagery, wetting noses to enhance smells, etc. Great information, though I was utterly exhausted by this time! :-) 

The next morning, we had an optional bird banding event. Read about it here. We also visited the nature center at McCormick's Creek State Park. At the nature center, Tim Cordell talked about how to manage interpretive centers. First impressions matter! Friendly staff is helpful. Most people will turn to the right when they enter an area. Themes are important. He talked about simple things such as keeping restrooms and other areas clean. Be visible. I know I've been to several nature centers where no one was around or they were working behind desks and never acknowledged our presence, so the message hit home. Giving directions and how to hold a map were discussed. Being professional in communication is important. Have emergency plans, first aid kits, etc. available. There was also information on the displays and how to make those work well for the exhibits and visitors. 

Leslie Grow also talked to us about live animal care, looking at injured and orphaned animals, transporting, responsibilities, etc. Keeping animals at a center can make memories, change attitude and teach most natural resource concepts. I know my children got to turtle sit at Pokagon State Park--what a neat experience for them! Regulations on how to collect and keep animals for educational use were explored. 

Fred Wooley led us in a model hike, showing how you really can do an excellent job leading a large group. He had a person up front (me) and a person in the back. He gathered people in one spot and went to the middle to talk to them. I want one of the speakers he wears on his belt. :-) He helped us use our senses as he passed crushed leaves around that helped us smell various plants, he shared sassafras candy as we stood near a grove of sassafras trees, and really brought things home at the end of the hike as he shared a great quote with us to sum things up. I loved the view of the trees looking up! 

Later, Fred talked to us about how to lead a hike, showing us what he carries in his bag of tricks, how he uses props, emergency items, etc. He talked about titles, publicity, how to describe the hikes, and what information to include. 

We also had a resource fair with several tables set up on giving more information that might be helpful, such as information on geology in the state, evaluations of programs, free stuff, using furs and study skins, beach glass jewelry, etc. 

We also were able to see a juvenile bald eagle as part of a presentation on using live animals. This bird is still in training and had a few hiccups, yet was well presented overall. Seeing a bird so large and majestic up close was most excellent! We learned about their diet, habitat, adaptations, etc. The female is usually larger. They have excellent eye sight, being able to see 2 miles away. They like to eat fish, rabbits, rodents, water fowl, squirrel, and dead things in the winter. They cannot swallow prey whole, so will use their hooked beaks to tear, rip, and shred their food. 

The meeting hall was turned into a banquet hall for an awards ceremony and the keynote speakers. A father/son duo, John and Will Schaust, spoke on "The Secret Love Life of Birds!". John works for Wild Birds Unlimited and Will is an interpretive naturalist with IDNR. This was fascinating! They used an interactive style, starting with a family feud style activity. They said the Real Housewives of New Jersey looks tame in comparison to some of these birds! There are a few avian mating strategies
  • Monogamy (90% of pileated woodpeckers)
  • Polygamy (red wing blackbirds)
  • promiscuity (ruby throated hummingbird)
There are benefits to birds survival for each of these. Looking at the DNA of birds showed high levels of infidelity. They were fascinating to listen to as they talked about the cheaters, the Scarlet Letter A, and the saucy side of birds. Barry White of birds is the song sparrow which makes 2000 calls a day. Cardinals do great wedding cake pictures as they feed each other. Sandhill cranes do great wedding dances as they strut their stuff. We saw a video of synchronized flight in water birds and the extreme sports of the bald eagles. All in the name of mating! 

That night I hightailed it into McDonald's to use the Internet a little faster. Many of the long time visitors and newcomers sat in the lobby making beautiful music. It was a great setting for it.

On our final day, we did our own hikes and the final CIG presentations. I did mine on Frog Friends and it was much better than my nervous practice run. I was glad to try it again and will actually use it with groups in the next week. We also learned about social media policies with IDNR, publicity and roving, using bulletin boards, etc. They also asked through the What if questions, such as "What do I do if I fart  during a presentation?" Of course, I am a mother of 4 boys, so had to share that one! Someone even shared mealworm starts with me! I thought the boys might enjoy watching their life cycle and they seem super easy to maintain.

This is a group of the Indiana Master Naturalists that were in the Certified Interpretive Guide Training, though there were many more there throughout the week for the overall training. The IMN board gave away to partial scholarship which made it easier for a couple to attend. Thanks for making it possible. I help with the Indiana Master Naturalist Facebook page, so feel free to check out what is happening with IMNs there. I thought it was an excellent training opportunity and a wonderful experience to rub shoulders with the top naturalists in the state and even nation. A few things were geared more toward IDNR people; however, I feel like I have increased my skills and ability to interpret nature. I will bring these back to my volunteer and other opportunities to connect people with nature.