Monday, November 19, 2007

What's in that jacket?

In case you're wondering what's in those jackets the team brought back from Seymour, but you couldn't make it to Dino BONE-anza! at The Woodlands Xploration Station last Saturday, here are a few photos:

David Temple shows Graysen Conklin how to excavate inside a jacket. The secret? Go very, very slowly.

The bones they found on the surface are actually on the bottom of this jacket. So, the "top" of the jacket is actually the deepest part of the geologic layer. Still, David found a Dimetrodon humerus almost right away.

A close-up of the Dimetrodon humerus uncovered on Saturday.

David also worked on prepping that funny-looking rock that just might be a very cool coprolite. He's using pressurized air to clean away the softer dirt surrounding the fossil.

Over 400 got a peek inside the jacket, made dinosaur masks, toured the exhibit halls, learned how to polish minerals, checked out 3D topographical maps and dug through all that dirt from Mineral Wells. They'll continue excavating the Dimetrodon jacket at The Woodlands Xploration Station, and you can see what else they find right here.

Kim Beck - Within Reach

I have dreams of being that teacher in the movies that stands before any and every child, and through incredible eye-opening, (not to mention TEKS-correlated) field trips, transforms every student into the bright, enthusiastic students that I knew were there all along. To be this teacher, I need to come up with that amazing trip that will grab my kids by the shoulders and turn them all into passionate students instantly…

But I live three hours away from the nearest full-time science museum.

So I think, "I’ll be just like that teacher in the movie, and I will gather up my students after school. I will load them up in any vehicle that will carry them, and we will drive three hours to the nearest educational facility that I can find..."

But most of my students work, have practice, or have a ball game after school that I can’t pull them away from.

So, I think, "I will be like that teacher in the movies who can at least show her students such fascinating things in class that they won’t need to leave it…"

But I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to go, don’t know who to ask, and sometimes I feel like I’m the only one that cares.

Do you feel my pain? Do you, too, know the feeling of reaching out into the darkness of unavailable supplies, unattainable consent-of-release forms, and lack of advice in general? In my one and a half years of teaching, I had decided that I was a one-man band, and that I could not give my students the learning experiences that I wanted to give them.

But I was wrong.

Maybe you teach in a city where there are museums and nature centers less than a class period away, or maybe you are like me and teach where you are the only chemistry teacher for an entire county. It doesn’t really matter where you live. There are outreach programs everywhere that are waiting to cross the thresholds of your classroom. You can find out about these programs from a number of sources, including your local education service center, museums, nature centers, and even colleges. All of these organizations depend on an interest in education, and therefore are generally more than grateful for an opportunity to build strong, interactive ties with educators and students. There are even a number of ways that you can use a single outreach program to meet all of your needs.

Many organizations, such as the Houston Museum of Natural Science, have programs made specifically for educators, so that we can learn more about a particular subject and then take our knowledge back to our classrooms to be incorporated into exciting lesson plans.

I, myself, participated in HMNS’s week-long teacher program this past summer. Understandably, not every teacher has the option of participating in a week-long program, but even participating in one museum (or other organization) event for an afternoon can give you ideas about new lessons, labs or even stimulating classroom decorations. With each event or workshop that you participate in as a teacher, you are not only gaining knowledge and skills, but also, and perhaps more importantly, you are building connections with people. These people are the ones who are going to be your most valuable resource – most have a great deal of teaching experience, so they know what kind of materials and information will be the most useful and efficient for you. When you can’t take your kids on a field trip, these will be the people who would be glad to bring the field trip to your kids. When I wanted to work fossils into a lab I was doing in chemistry, David Temple was there to tell me where to get the matrix, and Chris Flis was there to tell me how to design the lab. When I couldn’t take all of my students out to a real dig site, HMNS brought the dig site to my room.

Junior Shelby Winter examines a possible Xenacanth coprolite in her science class at Seymour High School.

I might add that the more you stay in touch with an organization, the more they will remember you when new programs or events are developed and are available for you to work into your new and improved classroom. If you stick around with an outreach department long enough, you can probably even begin to develop your own program for your school, as I got the chance to do, with their enthusiastic support and guidance.

You don’t have to be teaching in a wealthy school district to bring your students incredible learning opportunities. There are people out there who can bring the field trip to you. You don’t have to be an expert in entomology, astronomy or paleontology. Share your classroom with people who are. You don’t have to feel like there is no one who can help you grow a productive and challenging school program. There are people out there who are waiting, who are reaching out to you to join hands in changing your students’ lives.

Let them.