Fossil Rim Education Dept Rolls With The Changes

Tye Chandler :
Posted September 4, 2020

Though chameleons are not an animal species you will find at Fossil Rim, 2020 has necessitated having chameleons on the staff.

Five months ago, the Fossil Rim Education Department was set to roll out a bevy of all-new programs. Adjustments have been made with social distancing in mind, and the department is once again excited to present a number of new options to those interested in environmental education.

The Fossil Rim Education Department is prepared to capitalize on its 1,800-acre outdoor classroom for your benefit, whether you prefer to learn in-person or from home on your laptop. Fossil Rim is known for its exotic species, but the education staff has some new programs that also teach you about native species like that turkey vulture we see perched on the far left side of the photo.

“We were supposed to launch all of our new programming on April 1,” said Director of Education Jennifer Arledge. “The long-term plan is to offer that programming once we can host larger groups again. We still might use a lot of those concepts in these new offerings and vice versa.

“Fundamentally, our departmental role is to teach environmental education. We are still going to meet that goal; we’ve just had to change how we deliver that content. Fossil Rim education is still here and available to use as an educational resource however you choose.”

After initial frustration about having to table all of the new content in the spring, the education department looked on the bright side about the opportunity to reach their audiences, both in Texas and across the country. Much of the approach needed to shift to online presentation and interaction. So, what are the various ways to learn from the Fossil Rim Education Department as the fall season approaches?

FREd Talks

Also known as Fossil Rim Education Talks, “FREd Talks” are interactive, educational, and entertaining free content presented via Facebook Live videos at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday and Thursday of each month.

“(Reserved Programs Supervisor) Andrew (Bullard) got us started with these Facebook Live videos and then (Visitor Programs Supervisor) Will (Baker) joined in,” Arledge said. “We saw people from other states, and even other countries, were watching. The lightbulb went on to the fact that, while we couldn’t have (many) people out here, we could bring Fossil Rim to them.”

Also known as Fossil Rim Education Talks, “FREd Talks” are interactive, educational, and entertaining free content presented via Facebook Live videos at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday and Thursday of each month. Watching these videos will be a prerequisite of another current offering from the education department: Environmentor Seminars.

In June, Port Aransas ISD asked the department to do an online, three-week series for their summer camp students.

“That worked out really well, which was encouraging because it was one of the first times we had done programming like that,” Bullard said. “We were able to learn a lot from working with Port Aransas ISD, namely what works and what doesn’t when it comes to virtual programming. We wanted to take that and translate it to a larger audience.”

“Reaching people around the world through Facebook Live really speaks to what Fossil Rim is about,” Baker said. “Conservation is a global issue, and our species come from several different continents. Part of our department’s purpose and staying thematic with our programming is teaching about the natural world through our Texas T.W.A.N.G. (Teaching What Affects Nature Globally) content. People are at home more now, so we have to make the most of the technology available to us.”

Environmentor Seminars

The Environmentor Seminars are another free offering, although registration is required. The seminars, which will be presented via Zoom conferencing, will have a different theme each month, plus they will include activities, experiments, nature exploration, up-close looks at Fossil Rim species, and Q-and-A time to help personalize the experience for the environmentor’s intended audience.

“Since last summer’s planning, we’ve wanted to bring mentors into the equation,” Arledge said. “Research has proven that in environmental education, the facility itself is just a piece of the puzzle for the student. We can’t expect to be the only influence on people’s interaction with the environment, but we can surely set a foundation for them.

“After that, the key is having people in their daily lives who encourage them to implement what they’ve learned. A teacher, a grandparent, a big sister – these are all great potential mentors. Our Environmentor Seminars will help those interested in mentoring learn how to use best practices that really make an impact and help environmental literacy grow exponentially.”

Environmentor Seminars will have a different theme each month, plus they will include activities, experiments, nature exploration, up-close looks at Fossil Rim species, and Q-and-A time to help personalize the experience for the environmentor’s intended audience. These seminars are one of the ways Fossil Rim’s education staff is utilizing Zoom conferencing.

Participants will have the option to become a formal environmentor or an informal environmentor with learning techniques specialized for their role.

“A formal environmentor is a person who would use what we teach in their professional lives,” Arledge said. “An informal environmentor is a person who would use what we teach in their personal lives. We will teach the subject matter and also how to implement it.”

The prerequisite to get ready for the seminars will be watching the two 20-minute FREd Talks on Facebook Live that will be offered at the beginning of the month in which an aspiring environmentor registers for the seminars.

“The Facebook Live videos are simple to follow and lead you into what the seminar will cover,” Bullard said. “Each month’s seminar will have a different theme that we put a Fossil Rim spin on.”

“One of the cool things about the FREd Talks is that they can stand on their own and you can get something out of them, even if you aren’t ready to take the next step with the seminar,” Baker added.

For free offerings like this, the department staff is really hoping to be helpful to those people who need some new ideas.

“We know that a lot of people in positon to educate this year have been told they should teach outdoors,” Arledge said. “They may be looking for answers on how to go about that. We can be a resource to show people how to teach in an outdoor setting.”

T.W.A.N.G. FRom Anywhere

While this is a paid offering, T.W.A.N.G. FRom Anywhere provides yet another virtual learning opportunity. These sessions will be offered monthly on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, as well as Sunday afternoons.  Participants will utilize Zoom conferencing.

For people who want to learn about Fossil Rim and its animals in a fun way but will not be able to visit in-person, T.W.A.N.G. FRom Anywhere will be tough to beat.

“A group can book this program and partake from their various computers,” Arledge said. “Anyone who wants to participate can do so and, like the Environmentor Seminars, this content will change each month. It can be a public session or made private with your own family and friends.

“It won’t be a boring lecture; we might be out in the park talking to an animal care staff member or close to a particular species teaching about it. No matter what we’re doing, it will be interpretive and interactive.

“This provides an opportunity for family members in different places – maybe a grandmother and her grandson – to come together with us and learn. School groups and scout groups would also benefit from the program. In addition, those who attend an Environmentor Seminar will receive discounted registration to our T.W.A.N.G. FRom Anywhere sessions.”

The Big Fossil Rim QUESTion

The Big Fossil Rim QUESTion is free and makes the experience more engaging for those who visit the facility in person. The interactive, educational adventure can also be enjoyed from home.

The Big Fossil Rim QUESTion adds even more excitement and intrigue for visiting guests than what the animals will provide. It can also be enjoyed online.

“We know that our guests love coming out here and getting to explore much of the 1,800 acres across Fossil Rim,” Baker said. “We are challenging our guests to solve a question or riddle during their drive through the park. It starts with an online video that guests can access when they get their tickets. That (particular) month’s question is explained, and each month there will be a new question to answer.

“Once they arrive at the park, they will take a photo of what they think the answer might be and then they will post it on their own social media page – Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram – with the hashtag #TheBigFossilRimAnswer.

“Monthly, we will draw a prizewinner from our pool of guests who posted the correct answer. Our hope is this activity can draw upon behaviors that guests were already doing – taking and posting photos – and add opportunities to learn more about the species here and how our conservation efforts factor in on a global scale.”

Twilight T.W.A.N.G.

This evening program is a paid educational option for Fossil Rim visitors. It has been up and running for several months, plus it is similar in many ways to the longtime favorite program of many guests – Discovery After Dark.

Although the hiking will take place after the sun goes down as part of Twilight T.W.A.N.G. events, this awesome experience also includes a driven adventure into the park, campfire/s’mores science, and plenty of surprises.

“Come with the group you feel comfortable with,” Arledge said. “We can talk about what is happening in nature in the evening and incorporate science. We’ll drive through the park and observe animal behavior.”

“Considering the similarity to Discovery After Dark, we have a lot of experience hosting this program and it continues to have a (strong) following,” Bullard added. “It has proven to be successful because families are learning while enjoying time together in nature.”

The event includes the driven adventure into the park, an after-dark nature hike, campfire/s’mores science, and plenty of surprises.

“It’s akin to a family game night,” Baker said. “We build up toward a prize of sorts. Almost every group we’ve had has expressed what a great opportunity it provides to get out of the house and have fun as a family while experiencing Fossil Rim in a unique, safe way.”

Take Your Pick

To learn more about any of these programs and to register, check out https://fossilrim.org/education/.

“We are able to do all of this virtual programming because the marketing department helped us hit the ground running, instead of starting from scratch,” Arledge said.

Baker may not have said “chameleon,” but that is the mindset he is carrying as an educator in 2020.

“We recognize that some people are going back to school or work, while others are still at home,” he said. “We are trying to meet our audience wherever they are at, virtually or onsite. More than ever, our audience has different needs. We are trying to adapt just like everyone else.”

-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate 

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