Southeastern Section - 61st Annual Meeting (1–2 April 2012)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 3:50 PM


WITHERSPOON, William, Fernbank Science Center, DeKalb County School System, 156 Heaton Park Drive, Atlanta, GA 30307,

Geoscientists who visit a K-12 classroom can recruit the teacher in guiding students through examining and identifying rocks or fossils. Three outreach programs, taught over the last 14 years to more than a thousand classes of 3rd, 6th, and 9th graders in the DeKalb County, Georgia school system, have also helped teachers gain confidence in teaching rock and fossil labs.

The 3rd-grade program, “Local Rocks and Minerals,” sets groups of students to identifying the 4 most common local rocks plus quartz, after the presenter leads them in writing down diagnostic features. Both presenter and teacher circulate as the students identify samples and test their proficiency.

In the 6th-grade program, “Investigating Rocks,” pairs of students receive 8 rocks placed on a picture sheet depicting rock origins (for example in a lava dome or a crinoidal reef). The presenter leads the students to observe textures in the samples that connect to the rocks’ stories of origin. Then the presenter and teacher circulate as students work through a dichotomous key geared to the rock set and make further observations of texture and grain size.

In “Fossils and Evolution,” each pair of 9th-grade biology students receives 5 fossils representing one geologic period. Students use a catalog of pictures of the fossils in the collection, identifying their fossils and placing them in major taxonomic groups. As the presenter and teacher circulate, students analyze a “Tree of Life” diagram to discover the ancestry of each major group, the times it was most abundant, and the time when it diverged from another group.

Although the rocks and fossils travel with the presenter, each program leaves behind resources designed to empower the teacher and students. The "Local Rocks" identification tables are the foundation of a “rocks from home” activity. A “Rock Textures and What They Tell” chart prompts further instruction on how rocks form. The “Tree of Life” diagram is a resource for multiple Biology units.