Snow, Journals, and Poop!

About a week and a half ago, I was asked to do some sessions as part of a K-4 student pro-d day. I chose to do a nature walk, complete with journals and guidebooks. It was a lot of fun!

I wanted to take the chance to write down some of my tips (and do-not-dos) of heading outside in the winter with a group of kids.


  • Set boundaries and stick to them! Use a whistle or another attention grabber to get attention.
  • Be flexible! Be prepared to walk where the kids walk, answer their questions, and go with the flow.
  • Start and end inside, if possible. This allows you to introduce the plan of the walk before the distractions of the outdoors.
  • Talk about poop. It is endlessly enjoyable.
  • Have journals and pencils for everyone.
  • Have at least one adult per 8 children. More is better.
  • Do at least 1-2 minutes of silent listening outside. It helps focus the group.
  • Remember to bring visuals.
  • Go outside as often as possible with the same group! The kids will get into a better routine.

Do not do:

  • Don’t be too strict about what they are supposed to do.
  • Don’t give in! Set your no’s and stick to them – have consequences.
  • Don’t expect every child to love nature.
  • Don’t be passive!

Overall, the day went really well. We could have had a lot more time to explore. The brief list of things we saw: dog scat, hare scat, snowshoe hare, magpies, starlings, blue jays, chickadees, sap, spruce trees, pine trees, other shrubs and trees, human prints, dog prints, hare prints!

Our rough timeline was 15 minues in class, introducing to books, species, boundaries, and getting bundled up. We went outside for about 30 minutes, then inside for 15 to have hot cocoa, chat about what we saw, and how to use journals at home. It flew by!



Planning to Present

Planning has to be the most valuable (and most avoided) step of the communicating process. How many people actually set pen to paper before writing or creating?

I have been trying to get into the habit of planning more effectively. Recently, I created a presentation for a museum talk series (post to follow). I read in several places that the best place to start is to storyboard.

Exhausting? Yes. Valuable? Yes. I came up with a few pointers along the way. These are not my own, but wrangled through several sources. Presentation Zen is an excellent resource. I’ve summarized them in my own way.

To create an effective presentation:

  1.  What are you being asked to do? This question should include simple things like: size and makeup of audience, level of knowledge of audience, length of talk, time and date, what style of presentation, and what materials you have access to or need to bring.
  2.  What do you want your audience to take away? Think about your main points and arguments. If you were to hear these people chatting about your talk on the street, what will they say to their friends?
  3.  How will you lead them on this journey? Think about the knowledge level of your audience and what they will need to experience to get to your take away message. Realize how much effort will need to go in from your audience to get there, and put in MUCH more to help them get there. For example: if I am talking to kindergarteners about pollination, I am taking them from 0-60. I know that they love plants and animals, and I can use this strength to help them on their journey. I will need to step out of my comfort zone (put in effort) to help them reach their knowledge potential. Really spend some time on this step. **This is the hardest step. If done with oomph, the other steps will fall into place easily.
  4. Outline. Take your planned journey and write it into a logical outline with topics and subtopics or sections. Write anything that will be useful to you as you present and form materials (websites, video titles, etc)
  5. Storyboard and map. Layout your presentation and time. How much do you want to focus on each point? Physically DRAW each slide if it’s a powerpoint, map if it is an outdoor presentation, and draft any materials. Estimate 1 slide per minute on powerpoint to start.
  6.  Go to your computer. You are going here now and not before so you don’t have to be farting around on the computer during your creative process. Save your eyes and wrists! This shouldn’t take long. Create a template for your slides to follow that matches your audience and will show off your topic effectively. Or, forgo it and just do one photo per slide. Use pictures and charts in high resolution. If you can’t read the text on a chart, edit it. Use rulers and margins to help you align your work.
  7. Delete almost all text off of your slides. If the audience can hear it from you, take it out. If it reinforces your point and will help, keep it in. Limit yourself to less than 10 words on less than half of your slides, if possible. If you must include more text, use animations effectively to help you wrangle what your audience is paying attention to. Keep text slides fairly neutral and spaced out.
  8.  References! Cite all sources of material that isn’t yours. Be religious about this. You can place it right on each slide in the bottom, 50% grey, 10pt. Easy peasy.
  9.  Practice. A lot. Read out loud to yourself. Time yourself. Use the time recording tools on powerpoint to help you see which slides you spend the most time on, and maybe want to add a few more in. Try it out on a colleague, friend, spouse, or pet. Ask them targeted feedback questions like: Do I have a weird tick when I am unsure (so, um, like)? What am I doing with my hands? Am I looking at the audience? Do I speak too slowly or quickly? Think of a few for yourself. Encourage them to ask you questions on your topic and get engaged.
  10.  Prepare. Get sleep and a good meal. Ensure you have sufficient time to get yourself set up. Have all of your materials ready to go. Have a back up plan – what happens if the power goes out? Breathe. Pee. Bring water. Invite a friend.

Now you should have a well planned, organized, and beautiful presentation. Remember to alter your presentation for each audience. No two are the same – be prepared to ad-lib as needed to keep everyone interested and engaged.

Slide from bogs ppt

Slide from bogs powerpoint. Using a template from powerpoint, you can really make your presentation pop.

Wait – what? Questioning and science literacy

Students examining contents of an ocean dredge - seaweeds, sea stars, etc.

Throughout my career and education, it’s been clear that at the root of it, I love communicating science. But what does that mean? Essentially, I love getting people excited about the nerdy, mathy, messy world of science, especially biology.

What comes as a surprise to me is the resistance of many to this magical, unknown world. Wading through the stacks of information and research is challenging, especially for those who want to digest their science with their coffee and go about their days in peace. Many websites and shows have tried to make this possible, with varying degrees of success. Mythbusters, Daily Planet, Science in Seconds, Science Friday, National Geographic, and ScienceBlogs come to my mind immediately.

How do we, as science communicators, rate our success of communicating science, and ultimately, helping people become scientifically literate? It’s complicated, for sure. Those who are not scientists are not going to spend hours and hours researching the benefits of coconut oil or likelihood of oil spills, but for me, the  measure of success behind communicating science is all about one key point.

If we can get everyone thinking to themselves, wait – what? when they read an article about a new procedure or scientific fact, we are encouraging the process of the scientific method and scientific literacy. Questioning what is right in front of you is the whole point of science. This questioning effort is engaging the viewer/reader in a different way than just accepting.

I approach my communication in a different way than some. My focus is to have each viewer, with their baggage, knowledge, and expectations, take away what they want from our interaction. Maybe they don’t care about my talk but are interested in some specimen in the background – great! I want them to question, challenge, think, and discover. All of these actions come from a place of wait – what? Science is all about learning and re-learning what we don’t know. Narrowing down possibilities, refuting the status quo, and re-visiting previously known “facts” are how we move forward!

When you read my blog – think about what I write. Ask me questions, refute my points, and decide for yourself what you take away from each one. And when you read or see science in the big, scary, world out there – remember to ask, wait – what?