Monday, April 2, 2012

Telling Stories in Education and Interpretation

Let me tell you a story. Virtually every time I take a group by the shark lagoons, people see one of the spiny pufferfishes and they say....

Oooh, CUTE!

And I nod...they are indeed.

I could tell you a different story, to give another perspective - one day I watched this same pufferfish pull a beautiful little crab from the wall.  The puffer began to chew on it, breaking its shell up and spitting it out bit by bit, leaving the crab skinned alive and unable to escape. Finally, after some time, the pufferfish swallowed the crab whole, still struggling...

Or I could recount the story from John Hoover's book about the dive guide that petted a pufferfish on the head, then waggled his fingers in front of it to try and lure it out of its' hole. It came out all right, and took off  part of his little finger, leaving him rather shocked and with just a stump left. So which is it, cute little fish or nasty predator?

Neither or both of course, it is simply a pufferfish. It is it's own creature and our relationship to it is our responsibility.

Which brings us back to stories. A story can just be to entertain, or to educate. If the intent is to educate, then the storyteller has to think about the words they use and where the story is going. What are the people actually going to "see" or think when they walk away? What will they remember? Stories are powerful.

In the pufferfish's case cute is a start, but I like to take the audience past that, to go deeper. So I might tell an additional story to counterbalance, like above, then on to the middle ground. I will have to decide how emotion laden the words are that I choose, it will depend on the group.  Ultimately, I hope they can see the animal as not good or evil, but important, magnificent even - a fish that can crunch up crabs and snails like candy, has big eyes to hunt at dusk and dawn. A fish that can inflate with water and turn into an inedible spiny volleyball. A fish that, if it does get eaten, is poisonous. These are very cool fish.

Interpreters and volunteers at museums, parks and monuments and even classroom teachers know all about story telling. We use it as part of our work. But story telling is a very wide set of skills and abilities. We can all get better at it if we try.

So it was a wonderful opportunity this last weekend to be able to host an event on story telling in interpretation and education. Master story teller Jeff Gere was there to show us how to animate a story - drawing us in with his performance skills and ability to take a common story and make it so much more.

Mehelani Cypher from the Ko'oluapoko Hawaiian Civic Club was there to help us find our place on this island, Moku o Lo'e, in this bay, Kane'ohe, in this ahupua'a, He'eia. She centered us with a very quiet and direct style. I started to feel grounded, to know where I really was.

And others pitched in - we had folks from the National Park Service's Arizona Memorial, from Mission Houses Museum, Atlantis Submarines, Manoa Heritage Center, Shaka KayaksKualoa Ranch, the Honolulu Zoo, Reef Watch WaikikiHanafuda Hawaii StyleNOAA Pacific Fisheries Service, story tellers, educators ... and much more. It was an exceptional group of people brought together to learn from each other and  about how we tell stories.

I encourage you to think about the stories you tell every day. Where are you going with them? What is your style? How can you get better? I encourage you to go to any of the sites linked to above to see interpretation in action!

We look forward to having another event like this down the line. In the meantime, many thanks to the host and associated organizations.

OCEANIA, the local chapter of the National Marine Educator's Association. Are you a formal or informal educator? Join us!

HIMB, the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. If you have not come for a tour lately, come on by. If you are interested in volunteering, or just keeping track of what we are doing, let us know.

NAI, the National Association for Interpretation that many of us have taken formal training from. Many of the folks in this workshop are members. Check out their website or consider doing one of their training sessions.

and COSEE (Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence), a national initiative now funded locally to promote ocean excellence and education.

And those cute pufferfishes? Try not to pet them.



Hoover, John, Nov. 2010, The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes, Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Whales, and Seals  Mutual Publishing, Honolulu, Hawaii. pg. 221. NOTE - this is a great book for ID's and stories about the animals - MH.

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