In a collaborative effort, our lab teamed up with Emily of the Shubin Lab to run a workshop at Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) Chicago titled “Can You Dig It? Fossil Finding 101”. (In case you missed it, read how we were first preparing some of our workshop items here.) Across three rounds, we worked with nearly sixty middle school girls from the surrounding communities to entice them into the exciting and informative field of paleontology.
After doing a fun name game to break the ice, we briefly introduced the science of paleontology by breaking it down into different divisions of labor. This ranged from research and fieldwork to lab work and analysis and through the sharing of scientific information with others before getting to repeat the process each season. This helped to connect the different personal interests of the students to the scientific areas they may be most interested in. Then the group was divided into Team Devonian or Team Miocene and moved to Station 1: Research.
Here, they learned how to examine a map, looking for geological clues about where may be best to search for the particular fossil they hoped to find. Team Devonian would search for a transitional life form between fish and land creatures while Team Miocene would search for a transitional form between monkeys and apes. We asked and answered questions before moving on to Station 2: The Field Site.
The two field sites were the most beloved portion of our event, as they allowed students to discover “fossil” remnants of past lifeforms. We modeled how to carefully dig and collect specimens, chatting about what their characteristics could tell us about the environment or associated behaviors. Next was Station 3: Back at the Lab.
We provided field guides that summarized information about known plants and animals of the time periods so that the students could then compare their unidentified discoveries to known species. We helped them form a narrative about what it all means and had each group present their findings to the other when there was time.
Before sending off our newly minted scientists to the next workshop, we passed along a 3D printed gift of a fossil that was discussed in the opening introduction.
Then we thanked our awesome volunteer helpers and the event organizers for a wonderful time, packed up, and headed out to discuss what we can improve for next year!