staff at Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester seem to have solved a scientific problem: how to teach basic nature lessons and entertain people at the same time?
Take a weekly video program the nature center launched at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep kids engaged. Add vanilla ice cream and MC Hammer. Throw in firefighters, waders, (literal) river dancing and healthy doses of camp and self-esteem.
What you get are a few parody music videos – the kind to make Bill Nye the Science Guy jealous – about basic outdoor education that are garnering attention on social media.
“It’s just a creative way for us to make education fun and engaging for children and even adults,” said Pam Meyer, executive director of Quarry Hill.
Meyer was the muse behind the nature center’s first music video, “Ice Ice Safety.” She and several naturalists, many of whom are also Rochester public school science educators, had launched a student video series called “This Week in the Wild” during the pandemic for distance education classes in districts around the southeast Minnesota.
The weekly videos give biology lessons on topics ranging from conifers and lichens to earthworms and horned owls. Yet no one thought of having the videos flow lyrically until Meyer came up with the idea last winter while returning from a conference.
“This staff is very creative,” she said. “So when the director comes back and says, ‘Hey, how about we do Vanilla Ice,’ Ice Ice Safety, is that crazy?” They were all on board. And the lyrics just started rolling in.'”
Quarry Hill naturalist Jenna Daire said she immediately knew the idea could work. The staff had already been shooting and producing informational videos for over a year, so it was easy for them to stop what they were doing, collaborate on lyrics, and listen to the outcome.
“Ice Ice Safety” offers tips for going on the ice such as “Thickness: four inches or more, is the safest for you to explore” and “Exercise is pending, leaders are about to dive , in a group? Spread out, don’t walk in a line.
The sequel, “Don’t Touch This”, parodies MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” by highlighting what annoying plants such as poison ivy and wild parsnip look like, as well as what people can use to relieve rashes from these herbs.
The parodies are meant to be fun goodbyes for college students heading off on winter or summer break – the first video was released in mid-December, while the second dropped the first week of June. Average nature center videos have a production cycle of about two weeks, but parodies took a few months to get right.
“It takes a lot of work to put the lyrics and the vision together,” said Brooke Hilger, another Quarry Hill naturalist who edits the videos.
And they took on new life on social media. “Ice Ice Safety” has over 8,000 views on Quarry Hill’s Facebook page, while “Don’t Touch This” has racked up over 11,000.
“I have people I haven’t spoken to in years… [who] are like ‘Oh my God, you’re in a video, what are you doing!’ Daire said. “People like to double dip. They love fun, they love science.”
The staff members already have ideas for a third music video, but they aren’t averse to branching out of hip-hop and into other well-known tracks. They just hope people see through the awkward dances and silly lyrics to learn more about the outdoors.
“It’s been really powerful for me to always connect people to nature, even through a screen, and hopefully in the long run it will take them out,” Hilger said. “So a little screen time but a lot of green time.”