Opportunities lost and found, acknowledged and pondered…

Hey, look… Christina wrote a blog!

One of the reasons I’ve valued my iSWOOP programs over the last month and a half is actually for the small group sizes. Over the course of the hour we are allotted, I may give two programs, a full program and parts, or maybe even a program that evolves into a discussion. Although I know hordes are descending, I’ve been enjoying the flexibility as I’ve been getting to know my program and recognizing the next steps I must take. Most importantly, small group interaction has allowed me to focus on how different folks process what I have to say and show, when they disengage or engage, what type of questions are effective and when, how to take advantage of preexisting group dynamics. My iSWOOP program is teaching me to notice more, to notice delicate behavioral nuances that regularly (and literally) get lost in the crowd. A timely lesson for me, for sure! Now to translate these observations over to the rest of my programming…

I gave an iSWOOP program a few days ago to a family group of 5 and an older gentleman. Other folks came and went, but these 6 were my core. I found out that I was meeting the family in the midst of a 6 month park-focused journey across the United States. They were all dynamic and excited questioners. In fact, the oldest girl talked her mom into sticking around for the program! The older gentleman was a contemplative retiree who interacted with me significantly after the family group left. All 3 girls and their mom and dad were active learners, asking numerous questions before we even got started. Perfect for iSWOOP.

Distinct moments still stand out from our conversation. For instance, I watched mom asking and then immediately taking a crack at answering her own questions. I also watched questioning within the family structure. We were chatting about the thermal camera to be installed in Bat Cave while watching the looped daytime roost video, and the youngest asked mom if and how an unattended thermal camera would be able to move. I joined the conversation and immediately regretted that action. I felt like I overstepped, and, in future similar scenarios, I’d rather wait for an invitation from the parent. Observing and being conscious of my place in an interaction, a role that morphs depending on the interaction, whether we roll with it or not. Once, the middle child asked a question that I immediately turned back to her. I waited too long, putting her on the spot too directly for comfort. Questioning is certainly a balancing act on a person-to-person level.

Anyway, back to the hordes of Spring Break! I wonder what my next 2 programs are going to look like? Will the theater be the best option, or will I be able to juggle the crowds amongst the exhibits? Time will tell…

5 thoughts on “Opportunities lost and found, acknowledged and pondered…

  1. Christina,
    Thank you! On my mind … what is satisfying in short interactions vs. longer programs. How to conclude both types leaving visitors in a position to discover more along these lines. Or are they already well-positioned to do this?

    If you can say give examples, patterns, hunches about any of the following based on the past month’s observations, I’m interested!
    CC: Most importantly, small group interaction has allowed me to focus on how different folks process what I have to say and show, when they disengage or engage, what type of questions are effective and when, how to take advantage of preexisting group dynamics.

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    • I hear the tension between pushing a planned program and being responsive to visitors’ questions that fly fast and furious. I think it’s appropriate to abandon the planned program if the audience doesn’t seem responsive and especially if their energy and focus is directed somewhere else. That said, there are probably some strategies worth considering to push back a little. Like being batted about by waves, somehow you have to get on top of them all or you just end up buffeted about, submerged, breathless, and tired.

      Some ideas. You all will have others and better ones probably.
      After a few back and forths, I might pause rather than answering and saying something like,”Does anyone else have a related questions/questions on this topic (or questions at all)? Let’s get lots of questions out. I’ll answer as many as I can then I have a couple questions to ask you.”

      “I had that question too. Scientists told me xyz. I almost didn’t believe them, but then they showed me this … What do you notice?”

      Another strategy might be to have some challenge ready for a group like this, e.g., … “I’ve told you a lot, so as you leave, think about …”
      or along the same lines …
      “Let’s review. You asked me lots of questions that I couldn’t answer, such as xyz. Which should I tell scientists you’re most interested in? Why that one?” or “If we had money to fund one project, which would it be?”

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      • Martha, I really like these prompters, especially the last few. I rarely get to the questions and hand-raising on the feedback form. I instead try to focus on collecting questions. I think that those last prompters would be great feedback form fodder. Some of the questions visitors have asked are questions that I’d really like to know more about, also.

        Is there any way to have the questions visitors pose and I record in my feedback forms answered? Maybe in future feedback forms I’ll define which ones I was able to answer and which ones were left unanswered? Where is the appropriate outlet for these questions if visitors aren’t into the Twitter thing? So many questions are organic, in the moment, and will not wait. Something I’ve been pondering…

        Personally, I never want to do my iSWOOP in the theater. I expect my program to be a little or a lot different every time. If my goal is interaction with current research, then I should be ready to respond to any type of interaction. I may not always be successful in this… I may steer too much… I may miss moments, recognized or unrecognized… Maybe I see us as interactive displays when we’re out there? Take aways can be so diverse, noticably diverse with these programs and presentation methods. I want to be open for anything.

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  2. In regards to the crowds of spring break, I did a program yesterday, and it was crazy. People are definitely attracted to the big screen (I set it up in the visitor center near the big cave model), but the questions come so quickly that it’s hard to do a thematic program out there. At least, I thought it was. I just ended up answering questions about bats, in no particular order. I will try the theater next time.

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    • Jenn! I braved it, the 2pm program among the exhibits. It was noticeably not as busy as yesterday. I was able to give my basic program twice… It wasn’t necessarily a thematic program (but then I’m not positive my program ever reaches the so what), but I really got in there with the core folks I was chatting with. You know that moment when I shy kid opens up and gets their questioning on? I know you know what I’m talking about… Yeah, I even got to watch that happen today. Yay! Good luck on your Spring Break programs, folks!

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