Multisensory Experiences with Stromatolites in Field and Laboratory: Geocognitive Effects
Lester Park, located in rural Saratoga Springs, New York and home to almost .1 acre of exposed stromatolite fossils, is managed by the State Museum of New York. It offers daily visitation and interpretive signage leading the visitor to see and understand a fossilized stromatolite (cyanobacteria) ocean reef bed formed about 490 mya.
This is where stromatolites were first recognized, described, and interpreted in North America, resolving questions about the origin of these organisms that had puzzled geologists for more than a century.
Using a multisensory teaching approach means helping a science student to learn via more than one of the human senses. Most teaching in schools is usually done using either sight or hearing (Bradford, 2000).
We conducted an on-site, qualitative, triangulated geobiological education research study to identify the unique multisensory learning opportunities and outcomes revealed by visitors to Lester Park.
We found that the park's in situ stromatolite reef offered multisensory experiences and waypoint-specific mini-lessons that can help students grapple, in particular, with the concepts of prokaryotic life, evolution, and deep geologic time in more direct and unavoidable ways than a textbook or web site on the same subject.
We also found that follow-up laboratory study of stromatolite fossils drawn from various locations can help those students compare, contrast, and deepen their understanding. Stomatolites allow students to both touch and see actual "records in stone" of life from deep time. We have found these learning opportunities yield teachable moments for open-minded discussion of those three pivotal geoscience topics.