This past week, I traveled to Las Vegas for a National Association of Interpretation (NAI) training. This training took place over a four-day period and included many exercises and activities centered around interpretation as well as an open book test and formal presentation. Overall, it was a great training and one I would definitely recommend to anyone who interacts with the public formally and/or informally to foster a sense of understanding and appreciation for a resource (educators, trail guides, naturalists, museum workers, rangers, etc.)
As someone who has a degree in formal education and has only learned about interpretation informally through others, it was hard for me to wrap my head around “interpretation” at first. In formal education, you have a set of standards that guide your instruction and knowledge gain is your ultimate goal. Interpretation, simply put, forges connections between the audience and the resource (whatever you might be presenting on). Interpretation is an interactive and entertaining two-way communication process that builds connections and sparks discussions and possible action. Your ultimate goal isn’t necessarily knowledge gain (although that certainly can be an outcome) but more importantly leaving your audience empowered and motivated to learn more or do something because they feel a personal connection.
At Nevada Outdoor School, many of our programs are education-based such as our classroom lessons and field trip experiences. We work with each grade’s educational content standards (Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards) and develop lessons/field trips that relate to those standards and better help students understand those concepts. We evaluate these programs on their effectiveness to increase concept knowledge. However, at Nevada Outdoor School, our mission goes beyond education. NOS inspires exploration of the natural world, responsible stewardship of our habitat and dedication to community. We strive to connect people to the natural world through better understanding of natural systems with the goal of increasing stewardship and care for community. Our goal isn’t just that a second grader can tell us what a watershed is, but more importantly can explain how they personally interact with their watershed on a daily basis, why clean water is important to them and how their actions can positively and negatively impact their local environment. For this to happen, we must go beyond formal education and more into the world of interpretation.
I believe this process of using formal education and interpretation is an important part to NOS’s education programs. We want our kids to leave programs with a better understanding of concepts, but also with an inspired and empowered sense of caring and appreciation for the natural world!