Saber-Tooth Chronicles



Paleontolgy In the Primary Grades



Did you have a drawer full of million-year-old fossils in your third-grade science class? Most people probably didn’t, but kids in local elementary schools have had the opportunity to discover ancient brachiopods and trilobites because of Oberlin College student Brittnei Sherrod.

A native of Oberlin and a graduate of Oberlin High School, Sherrod was accepted to Oberlin College as a Bonner Scholar and Mellon Mays fellow, both highly competitive awards that involve community service or research outside of classes. Now a senior geology major, Sherrod has a love for paleontology, education, and, perhaps most impressive for a busy college student, organization.

After taking a paleontology course, Sherrod collaborated with her professor, Karla Parsons-Hubbard, to combine community service and geology, putting fossils from Oberlin’s paleontology collection into local elementary school classrooms. Sherrod chose the fossils for the kit—the Children's Fossil Drawer—and created a curriculum and activities. In January, she brought it to second-graders at Wellington's Westwood Elementary School; this semester, she is working to arrange visits to third- and fourth-grade classrooms in Oberlin and Wellington.

“The kids really liked it,” Sherrod says of her January visit. “I took in brachiopods, trilobites, snails, bryozoans ... . I ordered magnifying glasses so they each had their own little one to look at [the items] up close. At one point during the lesson, they got to choose whichever fossil they liked the most and sketch all the features I showed them.”

Though Sherrod taught the first hour-long fossil lesson, she intends for the teachers to take over from there. “The drawer was made with a curriculum I've drawn up for it,” Sherrod says. “It’s not just for college students to take out to the classroom, but it's for teachers to take out by themselves, so that the system will be sustainable after I graduate. I want teachers to feel empowered and comfortable using this drawer.”

As a Bonner Scholar, Sherrod puts in eight to 10 hours of volunteer work on this project and other paleontological work per week. “The Bonner Center is amazing,” she says. “Fossils are something that schools otherwise would never have the opportunity to see around here.”


Sherrod has a clear knack for combining hard-science geology with communication and education. Besides creating a junior docent program for high school students at the Oberlin Heritage Center, she also has interned at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where she created activities for kids to do in the mineralogy hall.

“My time in Denver was great, because I got to use all the skills I had before, like creating programs and activities. I just went crazy brainstorming ideas. I came up with five activities and was able to prototype three in my three weeks there.” To add to her list of achievements, she also received the 2010 Subaru Minority Student Scholarship award from the Geological Society of America at its annual meeting in Denver.

Although Sherrod enjoys many aspects of geology–including meteorology, mechanical physics, and planetary sciences–she has managed to find an area in which she excels.

“I’m really interested in the educational aspects of geology,” she says.“You can’t do just geology. There’s other aspects of it: working on computers, translating ideas to people, a lot of communications. So as much as I love geology, I definitely want to be involved in education and other aspects as well.”

-by Paris Achenbach ’13



Union Elementary Students Dig Paleontology

Students in Mrs. Watts’ class at Union Elementary School received a lesson in paleontology April 22 with a dinosaur egg “dig.”

“Last year, my friend from Georgia sent these dinosaur egg dig kits to each of my students and they had so much fun doing them that this year we got them for the entire second grade,” said Watts.

“It takes a lot of patience to do these — you have to carefully dig out the bones and then use a picture to put it together. It gives them a taste of what a real paleontologist would have to do at a dig site.”

Prior to the dig, the classes spent two weeks reading stories and learning about the different duties of paleontologists. They learned about the fossils and how fossils are made and found over time.

After the dig, Watts’ classroom wrote about what they learned in the process of digging out the bones and putting them together.

“It’s such a great experience to watch, because it really is close to what a paleontologist might experience,” said Watts.

“Some students find the bones faster than others and that’s just like how paleontologists might be on a dig site for months without finding something, and then when they do find something, they might find many bones at once. It’s fun to watch students get excited and succeed and it’s great to watch them learning hands-on.”



Bullitt Co. elementary students do research for paleontology dig with help of New York State museum; children follow scientific procedures

Pioneer News, Shepherdsville, March 4, 2013

'Field trip' takes FES long way

Freedom Elementary fourth graders visited pre-history New York State thanks to a citizen research project coordinated by the Museum of Earth in Ithaca.

"The project involved my students conducting actual research," said teacher Michelle Hendricks. "Sifting through matrix from a site in New York where a 12,000-year-old Mastodon skeleton was found using special techniques."

According to Hendricks, the museum shipped the matrix, small collections of the area's soil, to Freedom, where students analyzed and recorded scientific data in the same manner as lab scientists.

"The students recorded and uploaded their data for the museum to use in their research," she said. "As a culminating activity, the students wrote an article about their experience."

Morgan Daubard presented her research project with each day's activities listed. Research included initial sample findings, then sifting matrix material, inspecting objects found within the material, and posting findings onto the museum's Web page.

"We are looking through clumps of soil from where the mastodon fossils were found," Daubard said. "The research we collect will help scientists learn more about how the mastodon lived and other cool facts."

Brighton Mayfield reported finding hairs within the matrix, as well as snail shells, bark, and various rocks.

"(Research) will educate us more about the mastodon," Mayfield said. "We can find out how it lived, walked, ate, fought and more."

Hunter Reed said the mastodon was discovered at a private residence where the owner wanted to dig a deeper pond and discovered a bone. Hendricks said the entire mastodon fossil was eventually retrieved.

"The museum sent us (matrix) to determine other animals and the habitat of the area," said Zachary Scott.

"It took too long for scientists to search for little bones," said Luke Horan, explaining why the museum sent samples to Freedom, along with why their research was vital to the overall project.

"It took a long to find all the bones," said Bailey Fugate. "We tried to clean them to see what they were. We put screens over buckets and ran warm water over them, it's called panning."

"Me and three other students found part of a tusk," added Cameron Vance.

"That's what the citizen research project is about," said Hendricks. "This was real, not pretend research. They performed a real process. Our tests showed ivory."

"Matrix is the life around the skeletal remains," said Katie Knight. "We found lots of plant life."

"We determined the weather," Reed said of the mastodon's time period. "It could be involved with the cause of death."

"It was a forest area," Scott said of the mastodon's location. "It maybe fell into a deep pond. That is a hypothesis."

"This project helps with problem solving in many areas," said Hendricks. "It makes you think of something else, or something more. It helps you reflect and remember. It also helps teamwork skills. There's lots of reading, math, science and writing included."

"If we help each other then we can also help the researchers," Vance said.

Once matrix materials were separated and sorted and data recorded onto the museum's site, materials were placed back into bags and returned to the museum.

"We sorted it so (scientists) could study one category really quick," Reed said.

"It would've been hard to do (on site)," said Horan. "There's much more mud there."

For more information on the Museum of the Earth's Mastodon Project visithttp://www.museumoftheearth.org/.

By Stephen Thomas




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