The Power of Teacher/Scientist Collaboration

When I began my journey with GABI RET one of the aspects of the experience that excited me the most was the ability I would have to collaborate with scientists to prepare lessons for use in my classroom. I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Victor Perez, a graduate student in paleontology at the University of Florida, for the past two day in my classroom at the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa, Florida. The outcome of our collaboration is a lesson that engages students, utilizes technology, and is supported by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Before his visit to Tampa, Victor and I exchanged several emails about lesson ideas. I wanted Victor to do two things during his visit in my classroom; first, talk to the kids about how he got into paleontology and second, discuss the ancient shark, Megalodon with them. The students had heard me talk at length about the numerous Megalodon teeth that were found during my summer trip to Panama, they had look closely at photographs of the excavations and localities where the teeth were found. They had read articles and watched documentaries where the mega shark was discussed. I knew that having a lesson supported by Victor’s knowledge of the animal would be an engaging and valuable learning experience for my students. A few days before his visit Victor emailed me two PowerPoint’s which I was able to post on my students class web pages and I created a handout to go along with the lesson.

Victor guided the students through the 2-part lesson in each of my 84-minute block periods. The lesson was taught to 6th and 7th grade students. The first 30-35 mintues of the lesson Victor introduced himself and shared how his interest in fossil sharks was sparked during a visit to a Maryland museum where a replica Megalodon was on display. He also brought fossils and pictures of his research experiences to share with the students. Watching the looks and expressions of awe as my students passed around a 350 million year old fossil was incredible. You could hear the wonder in their questions and listening to the connections being made with our curriculum assured me that this valuable instructional time was being well spent. My 6th grade students were able to recognize and discuss geologic time and my 7th graders recognized Megalodon’s position as an apex predator in the ancient seas.

In the second part of the lesson students were asked to measure the crown height of both 2D and 3D Megalodon teeth, determine the location of the tooth in the sharks jaw, and use an algorithm to determine total length of the shark. Victor guided the students through the process using his presentation and pictures to demonstrate to the students what each step entailed. He was patient and willing to work with the groups of students to ensure that they understood what they were doing. At the conclusion of the students calculations, we put the data found by each group into a chart and analyzed the data. The students were able to determine that tooth position in the jaw and the crown height measurement accuracy were two variables that would cause discrepancies in the calculations of total length.

At the end of the last set today a student came to me and asked, “Is he going to be here for our next class? Today was just awesome.” Victor was accessible and willing to collaborate with me on not only this lesson but other lessons I want to develop about ancient sharks. One of the moments that resonated with me was when one of my students came to talk to Victor while we were eating lunch in the classroom. He had taken photographs of a Megalodon tooth he had at home and wanted to share them. Victor stopped eating his lunch and gave my student his undivided attention, discussing the fossils and sharing other resources he could read to learn more. For this particular child that encouragement was priceless. I know that this experience will be one all of my students will remember.

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