Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 27, 2010

(KR + KA) x AT = IO

Little did I know that a mathematical equation would guide my visitor interactions.

In a recent post about my first guided walk, I summed it up: “Park interpretation is one part factual knowledge, one part story-telling, one part entertainment, and a whole lot of knowing how to read your audience.”

Ahem. I just discovered that what I intuitively knew to be true has already been officially codified: Knowledge of the Resource (KR) plus Knowledge of the Audience (KA) times Appropriate Techniques (AT) equals Interpretive Opportunity (IO).

My KR has a strong base and grows daily as I devour everything I can find about my beloved desert. My KA is solid, based on five decades of studying people. My AT is what I was coached on. The IO is the result/product.

Some days I feel as if 90% of my job is “the relaying of information.” This could be anything from where the bathrooms are to what our annual rainfall is to which is the prettiest arch that they should not miss. Someone of substantial import in the interpretation division of the NPS has a different perspective: “The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.”

We can amaze people with facts all we want, but unless they are provoked enough to form an emotional connection with the park (aka “the resource”), they will not care enough to go deeper. Going deeper might mean bringing the next generations here, or supporting legislation that will protect wild places, or joining a volunteer work crew to remove invasive tamarisk trees along the Colorado River.

I’m going to be provocative today.


  1. I love your enthusiasm. Your love of the desert shines bright! I’m sure you will be provocative today.

    Comment by Jerrie — March 27, 2010 @ 11:41 am | Reply

  2. It seems to me that your years in the classroom are helpful in this……… I know you tried to stimulate your students’ interest then, and it is no different now. We all remember something we discovered more than something we were told.

    Comment by Mom — March 27, 2010 @ 1:43 pm | Reply

  3. Hmmmm. I know English REALLY well. KR.

    KA = 11 years of teaching Emirati women, and AT also falls under those 11 years.

    So I ask: Is it (KR + KA) + AT??????
    Or is it…. KR + (KA + AT) + IO?

    What carries the most weight? When I interviewed for a job a Mangold Institute in Madrid in 1990 (you’ll remember that, you were there!), the aging director said, “Anybody can take the teacher’s book and deliver the curricululm… it takes someone special to deliver it in the right way.”

    Given my experience in the Middle East… what carries the most weight? I’d say, FIRST, Knowledge of my audience… THEN (and a close second), Appropriate Techniques, and a far third place, Knowledge of the Resource.

    In the future, what will the students I teach remember? The Present Perfect? The Passive Voice? NO! They will remember the atmosphere of the class, followed by the personal treatment I had with them, and with any luck, the lessons I taught.

    Be real for them. That’s what counts.

    Comment by Becky — March 27, 2010 @ 2:30 pm | Reply

  4. Thinking back over all the teachers I have had, I have to agree with B.
    They all had access to KR, KA and AT – and then they forgot those and simply TAUGHT.
    It is the essence of the teacher that remains and the essence of the lessons – not the details.
    Teaching, at its best, communicates so much more than facts – the best of all being love of learning.

    Comment by leroque — March 28, 2010 @ 7:10 am | Reply

  5. Hmmm,

    The one teaacher that I have had best in all my years that stands out to this equation is David Mully from England. I will never forget him. He had it all. What a true gift.

    Comment by Chris — March 28, 2010 @ 8:54 am | Reply

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