PRESENTATIONS CAN SURPRISE THE PRESENTER
effective way to get people interested in and concerned about components
of the environment is to use live specimens when giving talks to the
general public, especially schoolchildren. Environmental outreach should
be exciting and educational for the audience, but presenters can occasionally
encounter a few surprises of their own. After all, if you bring a live
rattlesnake or 5-foot alligator into a grammar school classroom, what
could possibly go wrong?
more benign creatures can ensure that a talk is remembered by students
and presenters alike. Getting the attention of schoolchildren is important
for any subject, and two surefire ways to get and hold their attention
during a presentation about the environment are to eat a frog and have
a tortoise attack a third-grader.
Yvonne's experience with a barking tree frog comes to mind. Yvonne is
an expert at talking to young children, and a handheld frog always grabs
their attention. We use an example of our biggest native tree frog to
remind people that we have lots of exciting hidden biodiversity that
we seldom see but still need to protect. The big green frogs come out
at night in warm weather and rely on small wetlands for breeding. Their
choruses sound like hoarse dogs barking in the dark.
a talk, we let tree frogs do a little trick that everyone likes to see
- walking straight up the wall using their padded toes. We stress the
point that no one but us should touch the frog because they have skin
secretions that can be irritating if you touch the frog then rub your
eyes, nose or mouth. Yvonne had just provided this last bit of information
to a classroom full of first-graders when the frog demonstrated another
trick: its ability to jump. In this case, from the wall right into Yvonne's
mouth! For those students, learning about barking tree frogs included
the fascinating tidbit that they can make you froth at the mouth. (Fortunately
for Yvonne, a restroom was directly across the hall, and she was soon
able to continue the presentation.)
don't climb walls or jump into your mouth, but they make excellent subjects
for a class talk. A tactic I like to use when showing children a gopher
tortoise is to offer it a big strawberry. The red color immediately
catches the tortoise's attention, and it will lumber over and eat out
of your hand. As herbivores, they eat grass, berries and flowers in
the wild. They are a keystone species where they occur, digging deep
burrows in sandy soil that are used not only by the tortoises themselves
but that become homes for other wildlife as well. Gopher tortoises are
a federally threatened species in parts of Alabama and Mississippi,
so they are the poster child for talking about charismatic reptiles
that need our protection. Also, they virtually never try to bite a person,
so during a school talk I like to let one wander around the room.
a tortoise and leaving it on the auditorium floor where a group of third-graders
sat in a semicircle, I turned to get another animal out of a sack. Moments
later I heard a commotion and looked up to see children standing, squealing
and scattering about. Everyone was pointing in the same direction.
little girl, still sitting, was scooting across the floor backward.
The tortoise was advancing toward her with open mouth. Fortunately,
tortoises even in high gear are slower than backward-scooting 8-year-olds,
so I was able to rescue her from the attack tortoise as it became apparent
what the problem was. The little girl was wearing bright red shoes,
which the tortoise had apparently mistaken for the most luscious strawberries
people about the environment has its surprises - and not all of them
are reserved for the audience. I'll save the incidents with the rattlesnake
and alligator for another column.
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