Fossil Fest 2003. Free! For Kids 6 to 12 years old Sunday, October 19, 2 to 4 pm Meet at 2pm in the college library parking lot across Moore St. from Brumbaugh Science Center, Juniata College, Huntingdon. Would you like to collect some great fossils?
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For Kids 6 to 12 years old
Sunday, October 19, 2 to 4 pm
Meet at 2pm in the college library parking lot across Moore St. from Brumbaugh Science Center, Juniata College, Huntingdon
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Preparing Future Teachers to Design and Implement Outdoor Learning through a Community Education Project
Elizabeth Blaine and David Lehmann, Department of Geology, Juniata College, Huntingdon, PA 16652 contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Preparing undergraduate students for a career in earth and space science education (ESSE) involves years of education courses with corresponding classroom practicum. However, experiences preparing future teachers in outdoor learning are equally important. The benefits of outdoor learning are irreplaceable with any other form of teaching: students take an active part in their learning through experiencing and discovering for themselves what their teachers have only begun to show them. Additionally, future ESSE teachers can gain invaluable organizational skills if they are given an opportunity to help design, implement, and supervise an outdoor learning program.
Fossil Fest, an outdoor learning experience for 1st through 6th graders in central PA, provided ESSE students an opportunity to develop skills that go beyond typical education curriculum. ESSE students participated in all phases of this program: an ESSE student shared project development, management, and supervisory tasks; and ESSE students served as small group leaders. The ESSE project supervisor was involved with all phases of project development, including site selection, locating corporate sponsors, and assigning and training group leaders.
During Fossil Fest, 200 children gladly took the role of seekers of past life, while learning about the geologic history of their hometown through fossil collecting and small group discussions. Two collecting sites were carefully chosen to prevent overcrowding and to accommodate the capabilities of different age groups. Younger children visited a site which had few steep slopes and contained easily recognized 3-D fossils. Older children visited a site, with a bit steeper terrain, that had a wider variety of fossils, requiring more careful examination of the rocks. The key components to insure the success of Fossil Fest were to match group leaders with groups of ten elementary students and to have one supervisor at each site organizing and helping these groups. Through group discussions, children first learned about fossilization and ancient life and then, armed with collecting bags and ID guides, collected fossils. Group leaders helped children identify and better understand the collected fossils throughout the event. This highly successful program provided future ESSE teacher a new educational strategy.
Selecting a date
To avoid extremes in temperature, we decided to offer Fossil Fest in mid-fall. We wanted to select a date that would permit the maximum number of grade school students to participate. Many grade school students participate in extracurricular activities that take place after school and/or on Saturdays. Likewise, many potential participants are at church or Sunday school on Sunday mornings. Thus, a Sunday afternoon seemed best to hold this event. We checked with the local school district and the community center to select the date that presented the fewest conflicts. As we needed a large number of college students to help run this event, we also consulted the college’s calendar to ensure that our selected date would not conflict with other activities.
Holes in Earth and Space Science Education
As in all secondary education certifications offered by Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), specific guidelines are set forth for Earth and Space Science Education (ESSE) certification (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2004a). To offer ESSE certification, college and university programs must demonstrate that students have been exposed to a wide range of geological and related ideas. However, nowhere in the guidelines are either “hands on” experience or field experience specifically called out as a requirement (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2004b). This is unfortunate in that geology is a “hands on” science; and for many types of geology, the “hands on” experience begins in the field. We suspect that few people would want to rely upon an automobile mechanic who had read many manuals but had never actually worked on a car before. And, we probably would not frequent an auto repair shop at which the chief mechanic, who trained all of the new mechanics, had never touched an engine.
Not only is it logical for ESSE education students to get practice in field-based teaching, it is effective (Manner, 1995). Clearly, the vast majority of geology educators agree that student interest and retention are at their highest level when students are active participants in the learning process (National Research Council, 1996). Providing ESSE students an opportunity not only to participate in field-based education, but also to instruct in it, gives future teachers a skill which they may use throughout their careers.
Outdoor learning breaks down the walls of a classroom. Also, through outdoor learning, parents and guardians have the opportunity to share the role of communicating and interacting with their child on the academic level. ESSE students gain from this exposure of child to parent or guardian communication and interaction in a number of ways. The most valuable is ESSE students experience a great opportunity to get parents involved with their child’s learning, which promotes a common goal between parents and teacher. And, parental encouragement and support is a key factor in children’s future study and career interests (Rowsey, 1997).
Just as parents are an essential resource for effective education, so is the community. ESSE students should learn how to design a program that uses resources supplied by the private sector. With limited funding available for new educational tools, the private sector offers an important and often untapped resource for building innovative educational opportunities for students (Lape, 2000). Learning how to identify and involve private companies and organizations in educational programs is a valuable skill which is not presently addressed through most education certification programs.
Within public education, students are occasionally involved in learning activities during which larger groups (multiple classrooms, etc.) concurrently participate. Although small group learning activities are ideal, resource and scheduling restrictions may require that some exceptional learning opportunities are only offered to big groups. It is common for ESSE student to be trained through practicum experiences and in class learning how to teach a class that fits a common mold of thirty or less students. Unfortunately, ESSE students are not exposed to numbers above this standard-size, which creates indubitable frustration when faced with a group larger than thirty. Eliminating potential frustration only comes with practice. If ESSE students are given the chance to design and organize projects for large-scale learning, then they will be more apt to welcome the idea of preparing for a larger group of learners both in and out of a classroom.
The red star marks the location of Fossil Fest
Elementary students and their parents met with small group leaders to learn about fossils and local geologic history before collecting Middle Devonian fossils from the Mahantango Formation
The success of Fossil Fest was dependent upon participants safely finding fossils. Collecting sites needed to be accessible and suitable to accommodate large groups. A number of exposures in the Middle Devonian, Mahantango Formation met these criteria. Additionally, the Mahantango strata include shale and thin siltstone and can be adequately collected without rock hammers or special tools. We agreed that the collecting site for the youngest participants (kindergarten through 3rd grade) should have no high or steep slopes and should include strata in which 3-dimensional fossils weathered out of the rock. The site for older participants (4th through 6th grade) also needed to be free of excessively steep slopes but could offer slightly more challenging collecting. Based upon these criteria, we selected two sites and received permission to utilize them for Fossil Fest. We then performed “test runs” of these sites using college geology classes to ensure that Fossil Fest participants could easily and quickly find fossils. During these test runs, fossils were not removed from the sites.
Flier that was distributed to every elementary student in our school district.
Parents and their children experienced geological discovery individually and as families
Group leaders—even freshman and sophomore students—were quickly accepted as information resources by Fossil Fest participants
Fossil Fest: the Event
On Sunday, October 19th at 2:00 pm the Geology Club hosted the first Fossil Fest. Over 150 elementary school children along with their parents, guardians, and friends met at a Juniata College parking lot to begin their adventure of fossil hunting. Parents and guardians were given directions to either of the two sites, depending on their children’s ages. Younger children were sent to a site that had few steep slopes and contained easily recognized 3-D fossils. Older children were directed to a site, with a bit steeper terrain, that had a wider variety of fossils, requiring more careful examination of the rocks. Juniata students were waiting at the two sites for the participants. On arrival, participants were divided into small groups, each small group having a Juniata group leader. Group leaders passed out a collecting guide to each of the children while introductions were being made. Participants also received newspaper and collecting bags for their potential fossil finds. However before collecting began, group leaders led their groups in a discussion about the meaning of fossils and the geologic history of the Huntingdon area. After a period of questions and answers the participants were let loose with their collecting bags and ID guides. Group leaders helped children and parent identify and better understand the collected fossils throughout the day. Snacks and drinks, provided by McDonalds and Sodexho Marriott, were given to the participants after the first hour of collecting. During this time the kids and parents took advantage of this time to ask further questions about their fossils while they enjoyed a cookie or two. The day ended with groups reuniting and a discussion of what participants had learned.
After the Dust Settled
Fossil Fest 2003 and all the preparation that went into organizing and running the different aspects of this community outreach has been irreplaceable and distinct from any educational course. No other college program matches the benefits that come with hosting and preparing an event that includes a whole community. Even more importantly, it gave responsibility to ESSE students for its success. Classroom practicum situations are a great tool for preparing ESSE students for a future classroom. However ESSE students need to also have experience beyond the classroom, just the same as other geology students. Learning should never be confined to four walls. The Juniata ESSE students and volunteers for Fossil Fest experienced breaking down the classroom barriers and enjoyed the smiles and the positive results from an outdoor learning program. The benefits of outdoor learning go far beyond the rewards for just ESSE students; they reach into the community and the local elementary schools. Fossil Fest installed in the children who attended the event a love for science and helped to create a community bond between the college and local businesses and organizations.
Lape, T. R., 2000, Meeting standards on a shoestring:
Teaching PreK-8, v. 30, n. 5, p. 54-55.
Manner, B. M., 1995, Field studies benefit students and
teachers: Jour. Of Geol. Ed., v. 43, p. 128-131.
National Research Council, 1996, National Science Education
Stadards: National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2004a, March 8, 2004:
Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2004b, March 8, 2004:
Rowsey, R. E., 1997, The effects of teachers and schooling on
the vocational choice of university research scientists: School
Science and Mathematics: v. 97, p. 20-26.
Low slopes and abundant 3-D fossils are the right mix for young collectors.
Older kids work a site with more challenging collecting but higher diversity.
Soliciting volunteers to help run the event
With the support of the Geology Club, an ESSE student and the club’s faculty advisor agreed to be the co-organizers of the event, each overseeing activities at one of the two collecting sites. Club members—including three ESSE students—agreed to be small group leaders, and two of the club members who are paramedics agreed to serve in that capacity for the event. The Club used intra-college e-mail requests to solicit other volunteers to help direct participants to collecting sites, distribute handouts and supplies, and to organize and distribute on-site snacks.
Promoting the event to the community
Early in the planning process for this event, we solicited the advice and help of the director of elementary education for the school district. Based upon his suggestion, fliers were distributed to all elementary school children in the district. Additionally, Juniata College’s Office of Media Relation prepared and distributed press releases announcing the event. For this reason, all newspapers and some radio and TV stations within a 40 mile radius of Huntingdon, PA promoted this event.
The learning experience of Fossil Fest had a positive impact on more than just the local community. Earth and Space Science Education students learned how to work with kids in the field and how to plan events. Participating geology students also developed an appreciation of the skills and rewards of elementary education
Kids and their parents were provided with a mid-afternoon snack, courtesy of our corporate sponsors.
We thank our sponsors!