Rosie Arnold - Education Programs Manager
Hi! My name is Rosie Arnold, and I’m Conner Prairie’s Education Programs Manager. That means I spend most of my time creating programs and activities for both our school and general audiences.
I recently finished grad school, and so my head is still full of research data and technical terminology. One of my favorite things I learned in grad school was a concept called informal or “free-choice” learning. Essentially this means any kind of learning that takes place outside the traditional classroom setting, like watching TV, attending a play, or (most importantly for me) visiting a museum. This type of learning is particularly powerful because it is driven by people’s interests. We are all free to choose when, where, and what to learn. Best of all, research shows that free-choice learning works best when people are having fun!
So that’s my job- to make learning fun. To do that, I ask myself a few simple questions.
1. Do I like what I’m working on? If I don’t like a program I’m creating, how could I expect anyone else to like it either?
2. Would a kid like what I’m working on? What would my fourth-grade self have thought about this activity? If she wouldn’t have liked it or understood it, fix it.
3. Am I creating a “real” experience? I can’t tell you how often we get asked if our fires/bugs/food/buildings/you-name-it are real. (For the record, the answer is almost always yes.) I plan to elaborate on this phenomenon in a later post. For now I’ll just say that most of us live our lives on a screen, so my goal is to create experiences where people can put those away for a while and instead focus on something authentic, tangible, and, dare I say, real.
4. How can I make a “required” subject exciting? Conner Prairie serves approximately 50,000 students a year, and there’s no getting around the fact that most of them must meet certain academic standards. But there’s also no reason we can’t help students learn about required (and therefore often perceived by kids as boring) subjects in a fun way. Need to learn about the causes of removal of Native American Indian groups in Indiana? Go talk to a real member of the Lenape tribe, in Lenapehoking. Have to observe, compare, and record the physical characteristics of animals? Meeting Shelly the goat or Ed the sheep in the Animal Encounters barn will help.
5. Will this spark someone’s curiosity? There’s no way you can learn everything there is to know about a particular topic in one hour-long program. And we’re okay with that. However, history is chock-full of interesting tidbits, and I try to include just enough of them to spark your curiosity. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll go home and want to learn more on your own. And that, after all, is the most powerful kind of learning there is.
Sarah Morin - Youth Manager
So it’s the time of year I love and dread the most in my job: picking new youth volunteers. As Youth Experience Manager, aka the Kid Wrangler, I am in charge of 100 volunteers
, ages 10-18. (Secret: I have the best job at Conner Prairie. Kids are funnier than adults. Adults never ask you how long it takes to microwave their socks.)
So the deadline has passed, and now I’m sitting with over 70 applications in my lap, trying to decide between great kids and even better kids. I’ve come up with a list of The Top 10 Things I Love About the Youth Volunteer Application Process:
1. Infectious enthusiasm.
2. 10-year-old, 4’8” applicants who tell me, “I’ve wanted to work at Conner Prairie ever since I was little.”
3. Kids who come to their interview in business suits. Spiffy!
4. We adults know what interviewers want to hear. Kids by and large tell it like it is. “What would your teachers tell us about you?” They might say very honestly, “That I can’t sit still and I get in trouble for talking too much in class.” If adults gave brutally honest interview answers like this, wouldn’t the business world save a lot of time?
5. Creativity. For example, this year I asked the applicants to write an essay about starting a restaurant. Their restaurants included everything from time travel to dog waiters. The menus ranged from French dishes in curlicue fonts to theme foods with bad puns (Lord of the Onion Rings).
6. Meeting kids who really want to help others.
7. Kids who haven’t figured out how to shake hands yet. “Hmm, is it my left hand or right hand, and how tightly do I squeeze, and do I stand or sit?” Is this a lost art? Or maybe kids are just stunned that I’m more interested in them than their parents, so I offer my hand to the kid first. After all, I’m not hiring their parents.
8. Walking kids to and from the interview room. It’s amazing how a kid who gets nervous and clams up sitting across the table from us will suddenly turn into a chatterbug as soon as the interview’s over and the pressure is lifted.
9. Finding out what kids are into these days. Literature is not dead – kids still read books. Books referred to most over my 9 years of interviewing: Little House on the Prairie and Harry Potter.
10. Diamond-hunting. You hire an adult for the qualities they already possess. You hire a kid for both the talents they have and their potential.Kids are like ore – I love finding the glint of precious stone in each of them, and wondering how a few years of refining at Conner Prairie will reveal the gem within.
And my least favorite part of the application process…. Picking between them!