Education: Geo2Go at the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History

by Sarah Horgen, University of Iowa Museum of Natural History

The trunks packed and ready to go!
The trunks packed and ready to go!

The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History (UIMNH) started their “Discovery Trunk” series in 2010 as a way to complement their existing educational resources and provide a new distance outreach service to educators across the state. UIMNH educators were regularly pulling together materials from their teaching collection and library for their own programs or at the request of an educator for assistance with a specific topic being taught. Over time, our staff realized there were several topics that were being repeatedly requested and utilized—both internally and externally—and perhaps it was time to create formal, topical sets of materials for regular use. We decided to begin with topics and time periods in geology and paleontology because of our strong relationship with the UI Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (formerly Geoscience) and Paleontology Repository as well as demonstrated interest from educators.

We designed the trunks to be used by educators to complement a visit by their class to the Museum of Natural History in Iowa City, as well as for groups who have never visited the museum if distance or cost makes a museum visit impossible. As school budgets shrink around the country, field trip funding is often one of the first cuts. Resources like our Discovery Trunks allow the Museum to help provide a museum experience—handling real specimens and other hands-on items—without making it to the museum. The trunks are also popular with home-schooling programs, libraries, and nature centers. UIMNH educators also utilize the trunks themselves when doing outreach programs in the museum, around town, or around the state. The first series of Discovery Trunks were named “Geo2Go” to play off the portability of the resources, which are housed and transported in large, wheeled tool boxes available from home improvement stores or online. These boxes are relatively easy to transport by hand even when filled with heavy books and fossils, as well as sturdy enough to ship to off-site locations.

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The first Geo2Go trunk focused on the Pennsylvanian Period, approximately 300 million years ago when coal swamps covered Iowa, and was funded by a grant from the Iowa Academy of Science. The trunks include replicas and real specimens, books, DVDs, and activities and lesson plans. Real fossils for the trunk were selected from non-provenienced teaching collections at the Museum or the UI’s Paleontology Repository or were donated by collectors. Replicas or models were ordered from online stores or purchased at rock and fossil shows from reputable vendors.The lesson plans are linked to standards used in the Iowa Core Curriculum and the Next Generation Science Standards to help teachers incorporate the trunks into their classroom teaching. Various masters’ students with backgrounds in geoscience assisted with the development of activities and lesson plans with input from their professors. In addition to development of two trunks, funding was also requested for development of an educational poster on the Pennsylvanian Period that has since served as a model for other posters associated with Geo2Go trunks, as well as for purchasing a large quantity of posters of the then newly redesigned Bedrock Geological Map of Iowa. To advertise the new “Geo2Go: Pennsylvanian Period” trunk, copies of the Iowa Bedrock Geological Map and the Pennsylvanian Period posters were mailed to K-12 science educators across the Iowa to announce the availability of this new resource and plans for future titles.

Pennsylvanian-poster-18-X-24_Front_FINAL coal swamp poster back prototype remodified

A Geo2Go trunk and poster on the Devonian Period soon followed, which is a time period that many in eastern Iowa are familiar with due to the nearby Devonian Fossil Gorge (DFG) at Coralville Lake just north of Iowa City. UIMNH staff developed this trunk in close coordination with US Army Corps of Engineers staff, who oversee the DFG and often request outreach assistance for visitors and tours of the site. A grant from The Paleontological Society funded development of two trunks—one for UIMNH and one to be utilized at the DFG Visitor Center—as well as a poster on the Devonian Period modeled after the initial Pennsylvanian poster. A small internal University of Iowa grant was received to fund student research time developing content for the trunk and material for the DFG website.

One goal for the Geo2Go series is to have a trunk developed for each major geologic period as it is relevant to Iowa. Museum staff are currently finalizing two related Pleistocene or Ice Age trunks to add to the collection. One centers on the Tarkio Valley Sloth Project, an excavated giant ground sloth site which the Museum has been coordinating for several years. This trunk contains multiple rapid prototypes of bones from the Tarkio Valley site and utilizes those replicas to learn about sloth anatomy as well as the importance of this burgeoning technology in science and museums. The other trunk will focus on mammoths and mastodons and will include recent discoveries made at the Mahaska County Mammoth Site in southeast Iowa, another long term research project and excavation that the museum is involved in. Two dinosaur themed trunks are also in the works—one focused on the Jurassic and one on the Cretaceous—because of multiple requests from educators since we started this series.

The UIMNH Discovery Trunks, including the Geo2Go series, are currently available to educators and groups free of charge due to an internal grant from the University of Iowa, and museum staff hope to keep the program free with future funding sources. We are currently working with researchers in various departments to develop more trunks on themes such as water, astronomy, and energy. We are also working with researchers who are submitting grants to the National Science Foundation to include funds for the development of trunks on their research as part of the NSF’s Broader Impacts requirement for funded projects. UIMNH has also been able to incorporate University of Iowa students in the development of the trunks, from Science Education students helping to write curriculum for the topics or students in each field of study helping to select objects and resources.

For more information on our Discovery Trunks or our other educational resources, please feel free to contact Sarah Horgen (UIMNH Education and Outreach Coordinator) at (319) 335-0606 or [email protected].

 To learn more:

University of Iowa Museum of Natural History Education Resources

Devonian Fossil Gorge