Bringing Research into the Classroom

Recently, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Academy of Holy Names in Tampa, FL; during which I collaborated with Megan Hendrickson in order to incorporate scientific research into classroom education. My interests in paleontology, and science in general, stem from the positive experiences that I had at a young age. Given that fact, I know that bringing actual scientific research into classrooms has an innate ability to stimulate a similar interest in others. Paleontology is an exceptionally powerful tool in this endeavor because it’s an interdisciplinary field that hinges on exploration and discovery. My particular area of interest is fossil sharks, which have become a pop culture phenomenon. Despite the misconceptions about sharks that are often dispersed by popular culture, the attention brought on still yet offers an opportunity to engage the public. So riding the wave of pre-established curiosity, Megan and I developed a lesson that allowed students to estimate the size of Megalodon.

The visit consisted of six 84 minute blocks over two days with four 6th grade classes and two 7th grade classes. In order to make the lesson fit into Next Generation Science Standards, the activity was tailored slightly differently for the two age groups. For 6th graders, the focus was on geologic age and putting our findings in the context of Earth history. For 7th graders, the focus was on ecology and apex predators. For me this was quite transformative because it allowed me to think about my research in a broader context. Due to this experience I will likely approach research with a mindset of “How can this be turned into a lesson? What age group could benefit most from this?”.

K-12 teachers are quite remarkable in their ability to manage time and students, while actively trying to stay up-to-date with their field of interest. Thus far my training has been primarily in very specific research and I have little experience with the logistics of maintaining a class. The power of these teachers comes from their ability to take a very specific topic and put into a broader context that is translatable to numerous walks of life. I am eager to work with more teachers to further develop those skills in myself.

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