By Jeanette Pirlo
Summer is a time for fun and relaxation, except when you’re a grad student! It is a time to catch up on work you had every intention to get done during the school year, plus, get a chance to do some fun outreach activities with the next generation of fossil enthusiasts. Through the FOSSIL Project this summer, I’ve had the opportunity to guest speak and participate at three camps at or near the Florida Museum of Natural History: Sharks and Minnows Summer Camp at the Florida Museum, the Firewise Nature Camp in Ocala, Florida, and the Fort White Elementary School Summer STEM Camp in Fort White, Florida. FOSSIL supported my travel to these camps, and provided some of the fossil materials for camp activities. All three camps had approximately 40 participants ranging in age from 5 to 14 years old. Below, is an account of each camp.
June 25, 2018: Sharks and Minnows, Florida Museum
The Sharks and Minnows camp is an annual themed camp that takes place at the Florida Museum of Natural History. It focuses on sharks and fishes, both extant and extinct species, and campers get the opportunity to learn about biology, ecology, behavior, and more. I was asked to speak to the campers about my experience as a marine biologist during the day focused on biology. In my thirty-minute presentation, I described my journey to my current position as a graduate student in vertebrate paleontology, my successes, struggles and frustrations while in college, but, most importantly, I highlighted my work history with marine environments. The campers were very enthusiastic throughout the presentation and asked many questions about my work. Granted, one of the highlights of my time with them was their discovery of shadow puppets that they could make on the screen, from the projector. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met with the Sharks and Minnows camp because I was reminded by the campers that all dreams are possible!
June 27, 2018: Firewise Nature Camp, Ocala, Florida
I joined the Firewise Nature Camp in Ocala. Firewise focuses on providing outdoor experience for campers. They have a great indoor and outdoor location in Ocala, with a comfortable indoor camp center, as well as a large forested area where campers get a chance to go caving, build forts, and learn about Florida’s native flora and fauna. My task was to inform the campers about Florida’s past flora and fauna.
Using educational, giveaway fossils representative of Florida from 5 million years ago, I created a mock dig site on the camp grounds. I introduced the campers, ages 5-14, to paleontology and my role as a paleontologist. We then discussed the types of fossils they might find in Florida. After splitting the group in half, we went outside and dug in the pit.
June 28, 2018: Fort White Elementary School Summer STEM Camp, Ft. White, Florida
I joined the Ft. White STEM Camp for the day. The camp is focused on elementary school students interested in STEM careers. Unlike Ocala, we did not have an outdoor space from which students could dig fossils, but we improvised! The camp director, Janet Sweat, provided kiddie pools filled with sand, and quartered into separate spaces for students to spread out. Each section had various fossils local to Florida that they would be able to dig through. Both Janet and myself were concerned that the campers would quickly find the fossils and that the activity would not take as long as we’d like, but we were pleasantly surprised! The campers were very careful uncovering their fossils. They took their time to gently remove the sand from around each specimen and made sure the fossil was intact before removing it from the sand box. As in Ocala, the campers at Ft. White were able to select two of the fossils that they found to take home.