2008 Joint Meeting of The Geological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies with the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM

Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-6:00 PM

Can You Dig It? Using Paleontology In the GK-12 Classroom to Develop Student Research and Communication Skills

SHROAT-LEWIS, René A., Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, The University of Tennessee, 306 Earth and Planetary Sciences Building, 1412 Circle Drive, Knoxville, TN 37996-1410, SUMRALL, Colin D., Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Univ of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, CORDELL, Larry, Halls Middle School, 4317 E. Emory Road, Knoxville, TN 37938 and HORN, Sally, Department of Geography, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, rshroatl@utk.edu

The inherent curiosity children have about fossil organisms and the ease of which fossil material can be obtained makes paleontology an excellent vehicle for students to become involved in science. Hands-on research projects can be used to teach students to think like scientists; they learn how scientific questions are formulated, how experiments are designed, how to critically evaluate their results, and how modern technology can assist with the understanding and analysis of collected data. These real-life applications promote the ability to draw analogies, infer relationships, predict outcomes, and analyze data.

For The University of Tennessee GK-12 Earth Project, twenty-five 8th grade students from Halls Middle School in Knoxville, Tennessee analyzed sediment samples collected from the Mississippian age Pennington Formation of Kentucky. Students were taught basic paleontological techniques, such as wet-sieving, a method by which the clay matrix is separated from the fossils contained within the sediment. Fossil residues were analyzed for taxonomic content and proportion. Additionally, students were introduced to relevant scientific literature that enabled them to identify common taxa, make inferences about community biodiversity, and reconstruct the environment in which these organisms lived.

Students were taught how to use spreadsheet technology as a tool to record and analyze their data. Creation of useful graphs gave the students a visual representation of their findings and these computer-based strategies helped students develop problem-solving skills. Students worked in teams to prepare PowerPoint® presentations that showcased their findings. These presentations were given to their peers in an effort to demonstrate the importance of clear and effective communication skills. Students successfully fielded questions from their peers, many of which required further scientific consideration. Incorporation of activities such as this in the classroom not only excites students but helps foster a better understanding of science.