Education: FOSSILs4Teachers!

By Danielle Brennan

For the past several years, I have been teaching fossils to students ranging from 5th graders all the way up to seniors in high school. Every year, I teach science and I tailor my fossil presentation to meet the standards of the specific science course and age I am working with. However, I have never formally developed a thorough lesson plan on fossils or been given the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers and fossils experts until the 2017 FOSSILs 4 Teachers Professional Development (PD) that was put on by the FOSSIL Project and the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) in August. This PD was by far one of the best workshops I have had the opportunity to attend.

Day 1: FOSSIL and FLMNH Paleontology staff and fossil hunters from all over the U.S. laid out an array of fossils for teachers to browse through. The goal was for the teachers to develop lesson plans around the fossils they could choose and take home to use in their classroom. For many, this was an overwhelming experience, with most teachers having very little fossil knowledge and no direction of where to begin. Then, teachers were given the opportunity to go around and talk to the fossils hunters and staff about the fossils they had brought. This opened the door to communication and knowledge exchange. Throughout the day, we would have key speakers share knowledge of how they had used fossils to educate or just provide the basics of what a fossil was and how they form. Towards the end of the day, teachers and fossil hunters were given the opportunity to go on a behind the scenes tour of the museum’s paleontology collections. We got to see how fossils were prepped and stored. It was amazing to see just how many fossils the Florida Museum has. By the end of day one, most teachers had a general idea of what they were going to develop a lesson on.

Danielle Brennan sorts fossils with other participants during the FOSSILs4Teachers professional development organized by the FOSSIL Project and the Florida Museum. Photo credit: Jeff Gage, Florida Museum

Day 2: What an exciting day! Teachers were able to go around the room and begin gathering fossils they wanted to use for developing their lesson and in their classroom. Around lunchtime, the group participated in a matrix sorting activity. Matrix was brought in from the Lee Creek Mines in Aurora, North Carolina and from a location in lower Alabama. The matrix from Aurora was so different from the matrix in Alabama. Both matrices were rich with fossils, but there was much more of a variety of fossils in the Aurora matrix. Many of these fossils were smaller in size than those from Alabama, but what an awesome opportunity to compare fossils from one location to the other! At the end of this day, teachers had a solid idea of what the topic of their lesson plan was and how they were incorporating the use of fossils. The actual writing up of the lesson plan began.

Day3: We listened to talks on how to make and use field notebooks, fossil impacts on students, and diversity in the field of paleontology. The rest of the day was devoted to finishing the lesson planning and creating a poster. This was much needed time to sit down and get our official thoughts written down and finalize our lesson plans. This took all day and then some.

Final Day: We presented our lesson plans in the form of a poster. I thought this was a really neat way to share what we had developed. There were so many amazing lesson plans developed–many of which I plan to use in my classroom as a unit for my marine science classroom this year. I am hoping to continue to work with the Vertebrate Paleontology department at the Florida Museum and the FOSSIL Project to put these lessons into an easy to follow format for all teachers to access.

Danielle Brennan (forward left) stands in front of her lesson poster with collaborators and amateur paleontologists, Lara and Ramsey Greene. The title of their lesson is “Using Fossils to Determine Earth’s Past” and can be found on the myFOSSIL Resources, K-12 Teachers page for download. Photo credit: Jeff Gage, Florida Museum

I would like to thank the University of Florida, the Paleontology Department at the Florida Museum of Natural History, and most importantly, the FOSSIL Project, for continuing to educate teachers on fossils. Thank you for bringing amateur and professional paleontologists together to work with teachers to develop lesson plans for the classroom. This was a fabulous learning experience.

To learn more:

Find Danielle’s lesson and others at https://www.myfossil.org/category/k-12/

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