Transcription of Niles Parker for the show Whole-Body Learning #185

Speaker 1:                 You’re listening to Love Maine Radio with Dr. Lisa Belisle. Recorded in the studio of Maine Magazine at 75 Market Street, Portland, Maine. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a physician trained in family and preventative medicine, acupuncture and public health. She offers medical care and acupuncture at Brunswick Family Medicine. Read more about her integrative approach to wellness in Maine Magazine. Love Maine Radio is available for download free on iTunes. See the Love Maine Radio Facebook page or for details. Now here are a few highlights from this week’s program.

Niles:                         The process of learning and discovery is something that sticks with you, that you have and it ignites a spark that makes you want to keep exploring and keep discovering and that learning is a lifelong process. That’s at the heart of what we’re all about.

Kim:                            The number one thing I hear so often is that I can’t. The first thing they’ll do when they go across the Bounce [Beam 00:01:02] is, “I can’t do it.” It’s been a great opportunity for kids to explore their bodies, not just physically, but also just from the mindset.

Tim:                            One of the biggest things is you have to be consistent. You have to have some goals initially and then you have to be consistent in trying reach goals from the standpoint of self confidence and feeling better about yourself. You’re able to physically do something that maybe three months down the road you never thought possible. Just something that’s very rewarding for people with that.

Speaker 1:                 Love Maine Radio is made possible with the support of the following generous sponsors: Maine Magazine, Marci Booth of Booth Maine, Apothecary by Design, Mike LePage and Beth Franklin of RE/MAX Heritage, Tom Shepherd of Shepherd Financial, Harding Lee Smith of The Rooms and Bangor Savings Bank.

Dr. L. Belisle:            This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show number one eighty-five Whole Body Learning airing for the first time on Monday, March 29, 2015. Most of us associate the word learning with school or books. We have increasingly become aware that learning takes place in multiple settings and that it can be visual, auditory or kinesthetic and sensory. Today we speak with Niles Parker, executive director of the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor and Kim and Tim DeMado of Triple Jump Fitness about the ways in which they are helping children and adults learn. Thank you for joining us.

Having myself spent a considerable amount of time in the greater Bangor Oroo region. I’m always happy to have an individual who’s willing to drive down here and take the time to talk to us about what’s going on in that area. Niles Parker is the executive director of the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor, prior to that he was the executive director at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport. He is a resident of Hampden with his wife and three children and currently serves on the boards of the RSU 22 school system, the American Folk Festival and the Maine Science Festival. He’s a graduate of the Bangor Region Leadership Institute. Niles thanks for coming down.

Niles:                         Thanks for having me here Lisa. Great to be here.

Dr. L. Belisle:            Bangor is what a couple, two and a half hours from Portland?

Niles:                         Yep, yeah. In the snow it’s about two and a half hours, two hours on a nice day.

Dr. L. Belisle:            You spend a lot of time traveling around the state is my understanding.

Niles:                         I do. Yeah, I’m getting to know 95 and 295 pretty well but down in this area a lot. I have family in this area. Then as we were talking about earlier kids playing soccer and work-related things as well.

Dr. L. Belisle:            You’re originally from the Boston area.

Niles:                         I am. I grew up just outside of Boston.

Dr. L. Belisle:            This for you is a little bit different, the driving and the Maine thing. That’s a little different than what you were used to.

Niles:                         It is, though I don’t miss the traffic. It’s pretty nice being able to commute to work in about ten minutes and not have to wait in line or pull my hair out in a traffic jam. I wouldn’t trade it.

Dr. L. Belisle:            Yeah, I can see that. I remember when I was in Boston, living there just for the summer and I would drive up and go over the Piscataqua River Bridge and I would all of the sudden start to breathe again. Things would just opened up and was back home.

Niles:                         There’s a decompression factor when you cross that bridge I think coming into Maine. It’s like okay. I still get that. It’s nice.

Dr. L. Belisle:            That’s good. You have been when I say you grew up outside of Boston, you’ve been all over the place. You actually have worked for in addition to working for the Penobscot Marine Museum, you were the acting director and chief curator of the Nantucket Historical Association. You also were the curator and director of exhibitions at the New York State historical association and also the editor of Heritage Magazine and coordinator of the Seminars in American Culture and worked for the Smithsonian, so you just quite a resume.

Niles:                         Been a lot of fun. I just fell into museums in a way, never thinking that’s what I’d be doing and twenty-five years later I’m still doing it and loving it.

Dr. L. Belisle:            You started with a BA in American Studies from Colby and then went on to get an MA in Museum Studies from SUNY.

Niles:                         Correct, yeah the Cooperstown Program that’s affiliated with the SUNY system.

Dr. L. Belisle:            Tell me about that because I think I’ve been to many museums and I’ve never really thought about the education that’s involved in working with a museum aside from maybe working with an art museum. I have some knowledge of that, but tell me about your background.

Niles:                         Sure, so it actually started, my interest in museums well I guess it started when I was a kid but at Colby I took a course in material culture with then director of the Colby Art Museum, Hugh Gourley and really connected with it. I really liked the idea that object, what an object made by a person or a culture told us about that culture, how design impacted decisions and again what it said about the making and the culture behind it. That idea stuck with me and Hugh Gourley helped me get an internship at the Smithsonian that turned into a great experience there. Again really liked it, got the chance to work with artifacts there, got the chance to work on some exhibits there.

The whole notion of teaching through the use of objects and what it could tell in ways that you couldn’t in a classroom necessarily was really appealing to me. I always thought I’d be a teacher or maybe a teacher and a coach at a prep school or something like that. Then this idea of teaching through the use of artifacts really connected with me, so stuck with that and went to grad school. That idea of teaching with artifacts is something that was part and parcel of the curriculum and what they taught you. Then there were certainly things like education, theory, fundraising, working with nonprofits, marketing, things like that that went along with that, but I think at its heart it’s all about education and working with objects, a hands on approach to learning.

Dr. L. Belisle:            I like that because I think that we all learn in different ways. I like to read but I also like to listen to music. I like to see art. I like the idea of something tangible that you can look it up piece and you can say this actually had a place in someone’s hand a thousand years ago, a hundred years ago, fifty years ago, and it actually means something. There’s something very real about that.

Niles:                         Absolutely. Very tangible.

Dr. L. Belisle:            Very tangible.

Niles:                         I learn differently when I see something or when I get to get my hands on it and fool around with it. It was a learning that let me soak something up in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to just in a lecture or in a class or a book necessarily. I think that was something that I also picked up and really liked about the American Studies Program at Colby. It was very cross disciplinary and so we would study the 1950s for instance and we’d look at it from the angle of sports and from literature and film and art and economics. It was a really appealing way of tackling a subject. I think that’s always stuck with me.

Dr. L. Belisle:            Your interest in education has translated into your being actually on the board with your local school system, but you also are on the board with the Maine Science Festival and the American Folk Festival. These are almost the former is education but the latter two it’s almost like museums and action in a way.

Niles:                         Yeah.

Dr. L. Belisle:            Bringing something to people in a more temporary basis, but could still have a really lasting impact.

Niles:                         I hope so. I think they do. I guess that’s part of I feel importantly about volunteering and working in your community and working on things that will make a difference in your community and I think The Folk Festival has certainly been that. It started in 2001 the same year as the Discovery Museum opened in Bangor. A lot of people credited The Folk Festival with really ushering in Bangor’s Renaissance and putting it down on the waterfront. The city intentionally invested in its waterfront and tried to bring the festival to Bangor. After it’s two or three year stay, invented this folk festival, this iteration of it. It’s been great to see every August hundreds of thousands of people coming into Bangor, Maine, not something you would have seen twenty years ago.

As part of that though learning about different cultures from around the world, enjoying their music, enjoying the food, having a great time, meeting people, reconnecting, it’s amazing what it’s done for the community. The Science Festival is a new event. I’m really excited about that. The Discovery Museum has been one of the founding partners in helping to get it going and much like The Folk Festival does we hope that it’s going to pull people from all walks of life from all around the state to Bangor, not as a way necessarily of promoting Bangor, but promoting all of the science that’s going on in this state whether a researcher at a university or a company doing something really cool.

There are remarkable things being done here in the state of Maine that don’t necessarily get a lot of attention. There’s science all around us and we’re trying to call attention to that, remind people the importance of science and have some fun doing it. I think it’s going to be a great festival that we think is going to be a very popular annual event.

Dr. L. Belisle:            Is this also being held in Bangor?

Niles:                         It is. Yeah, it will be at the new Cross Center, right downtown as the headquarters but then it’s going to come down town through some of the new restaurants and bars and shops and at the Discovery Museum we’re having a number of events there. Really the idea of something for everyone, for different learners all ages so it will be things for kids at the Discovery Museum. Meanwhile a couple of doors down at one of the bars there’s going to be the science behind brewing going on for the parents to enjoy. We’re really excited. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Dr. L. Belisle:            This is going to be an annual event for people who are listening. This has already happened so they will be able to pick it up next year.

Niles:                         Yeah, we already have the dates for next year. It’s going to be in March again. I think it’s March 18th through the 20th in 2016, but the response we’ve had thus far for year one has been overwhelming. I think it’s really connected with people who see the promise obviously of science and teaching science, but again the fun in it and just some of the programs we’re doing are really connecting.

Dr. L. Belisle:            Tell me about the Discovery Museum. I like the idea that it’s called discovery. You just start there. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You walk through the doors. There’s something you’re going to learn.

Niles:                         I’m glad you said that. I agree entirely. The museum was actually founded in 2001 as the Eastern Maine Children’s Museum. I think very quickly thereafter the board made a smart decision and changed the name to the Maine Discovery Museum. It reflects in part the reach of the organization in terms of statewide programs, but to your point exactly the idea of discovery, which is critical in the learning process. There’s something about that word that evokes fun, that evokes pleasure in that aha moment. Hopefully, the idea that the process of learning and discovery is something that sticks with you, that you have that and it ignites a spark and makes you want to keep exploring and keep discovering and that learning is a lifelong process.

We’re all about starting young, getting kids as young as possible and study after study will show you that that is the secret to success for an individual learner to our society as a whole. You’ve got to start that process early. If you can share that joy of discovery with a youngster and their family odds are that he or she is going to continue to enjoy learning, trying new things, explore, experience with different learning styles, different classes, things like that, really, really critical. That’s at the heart of what we’re all about.

Dr. L. Belisle:            What are some of the exhibits that have been more popular with people who are coming through your doors?

Niles:                         The exhibits, again the museum opened in 2001 and we haven’t changed out the exhibits too, too much. We have a number of exhibits planned, but they did in about 2008, 2009 renovate their second floor with an exhibit called Trade Winds. The idea what it was an interactive exhibit that talked about some of Maine’s trading partners from around the world and what the product is that Maine ships out or in some cases what we bring back here to Maine.

The bigger picture of course was that it was a way for us to talk about different cultures, geography, cultural diversity, and we’ve created some really fun interactive components. There’s a little kitchen in there that talks about Italy. Kids can sit their parents down and they will make the food and turn the tables on the parents, very, very popular. They’ll put the aprons on and take their orders and put something in the wood fired oven, the pretend wood fired oven of course.

Then there’s a section on Japan. Another section on Brazil. We have a great boat that’s supposed to mimic the cargo boats that pull into Searsport and bring clay from Brazil for the paper factories. Kids get a chance to work together to load and unload the cargo and pull on the rope to sound the horn. That’s a really fun interactive component.

Probably our newest exhibit that we’ve opened up is called Dino Dig which is on the third floor. This marries the idea of kids and their love of digging in the sandbox and their love of dinosaurs. We have buried in this really large sandpit different fossils. Kids can unearth them, bring them over to a wall of photos and compare what they’ve found with the correct photo of the fossil or the bone on the wall and learn about what dinosaur it came from. Sometimes it never gets that far in the process. It’s just the discovery in the sand, often it’s just that discovery in the sand, but that’s fine. You see the kids having fun and discovering.