Fostering Opportunities for Synergistic STEM with Informal Learners

Throughout the U.S., more than 60 fossil clubs and societies hold meetings, host speakers, organize festivals, and run field trips; conduct outreach; work with scientists; build their own collections; and contribute to the study of paleontology. However, in contrast to other science hobbyist groups (e.g., birdwatchers), fossil clubs are not closely networked nationally. Moreover, some fossil clubs have only limited access to the resources of professional paleontologists and natural history museums. Together, these realities limit their opportunities for informal STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) learning in the field of paleontology.

Initially based at the Florida Museum of Natural History and with funding from the National Science Foundation, FOSSIL is cultivating a networked community (known as a community of practice) in which amateur and professional paleontologists collaborate in learning, the practice of science, and outreach. This national community is determining the scope of FOSSIL activities, tools, and resources, and collaborating in their development and implementation. Mediated by the myFOSSIL Web space (www.myfossil.org), FOSSIL includes opportunities to: (1) communicate electronically and socially; (2) engage in training and development; (3) attend meetings and workshops (in person or virtually); (4) conduct outreach to underserved audiences; (5) contribute to and have access to the growing digitized collections in U.S. natural history museums; and (6) create and share personal digitized fossil collections. The inaugural FOSSIL project meeting took place in conjunction with the 10th North American Paleontological Convention in Gainesville, FL in February, 2014.

FOSSIL includes research to better understand how this approach supports the development of a community of practice and impacts participation in science. In addition, FOSSIL will build upon ongoing national “big data” initiatives that over the next decade will make millions of digitized fossil specimens available to diverse stakeholders, including fossil clubs and amateur paleontologists. The knowledge gained from FOSSIL will enlighten informal and formal STEM educators about how to effectively engage the public with scientific data.

Announcing our Florissant field course winners!

Thank you to all who applied for your interest in the Florissant field course opportunity with Dena Smith. We received so many fantastic applications that we had to stretch our budget to accommodate two winners. Drum roll, please…..

Suzanne Galligher, Vice President and Fossil Fest Chairperson for the Paleontological Society of Austin (PSoA), and Aaron Currier, founding member and president of North America Research Group from Oregon, will be going to the Florissant field course to represent FOSSIL!

Public and K-12 outreach by PSoA, led by Suzanne, reached over 1,000 kids last year, and they expect to serve a much greater audience this year. PSoA outreach events include visits to local schools, partnerships with many other local parks, museums, and other organizations, and their annual Fossil Fest. Suzanne looks forward to developing course materials and science experiments/exercises for K-12 students with the field experience, materials, and knowledge gained from her participation in the field course.

NARG presents lectures and activities for children and their families at their annual Northwest Fossil Fest in Hillsboro, Oregon, as well as participating in numerous other outreach events. Aaron is a science teacher at a middle-school in Oregon, which is leading the way in transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Aaron is excited to develop lesson plans to support the NGSS standards of infusing engineering and inquiry into geologic history education.

We are excited to work with Suzanne and Aaron to utilize their knowledge and fossil material collected from this field course to develop resources for the benefit of the entire FOSSIL community. Stay tuned for reports from Aaron and Suzanne following their field experience in Florissant, and keep an eye out here for additional opportunities we will provide in the future!