The Discoveries in Geosciences (DIG) Field School is a free, 4-day, immersive, inquiry-based education experience for in-service and pre-service K-12 teachers. The DIG’s mission is to: 1) establish research-based field schools to train teachers in geoscience content and methods, 2) provide a dynamic earth science curriculum, and 3) connect teachers and students with researchers. Working in conjunction with the Burke Museum and University of Washington (UW) education specialists, the DIG Field School was started by Dr. Greg Wilson and UW graduate student Lauren Berg, both paleontologists with combined decades of fieldwork experience and a passion for meaningful outreach. Nearly all learning happens in the Hell Creek badlands of northeastern Montana at an active paleontology field camp. Employing a Socratic teaching philosophy, we quickly train participant teachers in field methods, using small group projects and delegated responsibility, and whenever possible we rely on experienced returning participants to teach their peers. To increase educator confidence in teaching the geosciences, over four days participants are introduced to research questions and methods in microvertebrate and dinosaur paleontology, complete a challenging group research project that requires synthesis of their new knowledge, and constantly interact with faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students. This enriching real-world experience directly translates to the classroom through the newly-created, traveling “DIG Box” curriculum, complete with real fossil specimens and lesson plans collaboratively developed by DIG staff and participant teachers.
In three years we have served twenty Montana and Washington teachers, reaching nearly a dozen rural and urban school districts, and we calculate our program has already reached hundreds of K-12 students. Participant feedback indicates teachers value most the connections they make with researchers, the regular access their students have to real scientists, and the fact that their participation contributes to ongoing research objectives.