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Experience from Prairie Appreciation Day.

When the Washington Butterfly Association participated at Prairie Appreciation Day, an event designed to help young people understand the importance of remnant prairies south of Washington's Puget Sound, we realized we had very little for youngsters. By contrast, the folks in the booth next to us had butterfly costumes youngsters could wear and flit about, a collection of prairie butterfly specimens, and, most importantly, an aquarium with live beetles children could handle. At another station, kids were swarming around a simple display board that, when buttons were pushed, identified the seedpods that followed the flowering of various prairie species. With all of this in mind, we set out to develop our own kid-friendly materials.

As illustrated by the flower-seedpod board, youngsters (and the young at heart) like interactive displays. So, our first item was a quizboard with photos of six species of adult butterflies on an upper panel and photos of the corresponding larvae (out of order) on a lower panel (Figure 1). A six-position double-pole switch ($3 from Radio Shack) is used to select any one of the six species by lighting a small pane under its photo on the upper panel as well as to activate a push-button on the lower panel next to the pane for the associated larva. Then, when the correct button is pushed, the pane below the larva photo lights up to show the species name (Figure 1 inset). For flexibility, the photos (all laminated) are attached to the board with Velcro.

We built this "on the cheap." To reduce the cost of bulbs and sockets, we used the tiny bulbs from a string of Christmas tree lights, finding that two in series need about four or five volts and could be lighted with a six-volt transformer ($1 from a thrift shop) or 7.2-volt rechargeable batteries (already on hand) if resistors were used to reduce the voltage. Designing for both a transformer and batteries allows us to use the quizboard in venues that don't provide electric power. (See a partial wiring diagram on page 28.)


For the lighted panes, we made "sandwiches" by laminating strips of thin green paper for under the adult photos and, for the larvae, the same paper backed by a strip of tracing paper with the species name. The name is visible only when the pane is back-lit.

The quizboard is robust enough to withstand some of the rough interaction it gets when several youngsters crowd around it and jostle for position. For a more flexible game better suited to one-on-one interaction, we used PowerPoint and its hyperlink feature to develop a butterfly identification game, played on a computer with a mouse. (Ideally, users in a public setting see only a monitor and the mouse, avoiding risks to the computer itself.) When saved as a PowerPoint Show file (.pps or .ppsx) instead of a PowerPoint file (.ppt or .pptx) the game opens immediately and, importantly, is not readily modified. Because the file is small, we put the game on nabaws so anyone can download it.

After eight slides identify eight common butterfly species (each slide with options of "start over," "back," and "next"), the player gets a multiple-choice quiz, with three possible answers for each species. When the correct answer is selected, a new slide congratulates the player and gives options of "next" or "start over." When a wrong answer is given, a remedial slide and explanation are given, with options of "try again" and "start over."

Forty-eight of 76 slides were used for adults of the eight butterfly species. The 49th slide says, "Now it gets hard," and the game continues with slides asking players to learn and identify larvae of the various species, again always with options of "start over," "next," and "back."

As another kid- as well as adult-friendly item, we created a deck of 30 flashcards, with an image of an adult butterfly on the front of each card and identifying information on the back (Figure 2). The identifying information is at three levels: the general group, as "swallowtail," the exact common name, as "Western tiger swallowtail," and the scientific name, in this case "Papilio rutulus." Sheets for the cards were created in Microsoft Word and then converted to a five-page pdf document for card fronts and a second pdf document for card backs. (These files eliminate the problem of inconsistent formatting from computer to computer.) After the pdf documents are printed, one on the back of the other, individual cards are cut out and, if desired, can be laminated (importantly, with their sharp corners rounded). Again, the files are small, and we have posted the flashcard pdfs on our website for downloading. We expect to create another set or two of 30 species each.




As other items targeting youngsters, we created swallowtail cutouts and coloring sheets (Figure 3). After using software (in this case iPhoto) to totally desaturate (remove color) from a photo (either taken against a white background or isolated using PhotoShop), we added dotted lines to guide cutting around the tails and antennae, and "pasted" four life-size images into a Word document. It was then photocopied on yellow paper and each sheet cut to separate the four images. We then cut strips from adhesive name badges, and glued one to the bottom of each of the small "butterfly" sheets. When the butterfly has been cut out and the paper tab is peeled from the adhesive strip, the realistic-looking butterfly can be attached to any surface suitable for adhesive name badges. (See the caution information that comes with the adhesive name badges. They are not suitable for leather, velvet, and some other materials.)

Our coloring sheets are pretty mundane, nowhere near the equivalent of those in such sources as the Peterson Field Guide series. But, they are something with our name on it that children and parents can take from our exhibits. Recently we've found free butterfly coloring sheets on the Web and plan to use them in the future.

Our next project is to develop an exhibit on life histories of butterflies and how different species "make a living," perhaps using the same information for a script with PowerPoint slides or even for a DVD we can lend out as a "canned" presentation.

Youngsters now find our exhibit materials much more interesting than on that day at the Prairie Appreciation event. While we certainly haven't exhausted all of our kid-friendly ideas, it seemed useful to share our experience, provide some how-to information, and encourage others to do the same.

Al Wagar is the president of the Washington Butterfly Association.
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Title Annotation:Kid Stuff
Author:Wagar, Al
Publication:Legacy Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2009
Previous Article:No stone left unturned: the role of the interpretive parent.
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