Sunday July 26, 2015 was a beautiful and sunny summer day in Panama City, Panama. In many places across the world, Sunday is a day spent relaxing or with family. For the teachers and scientists participating in the 2015 GABIRET project, Sunday was an amazing day of learning and collaborating with colleagues.
Sunday morning began later than the previous days with a start time of 10:00 a.m. Promptly at 10:00 a.m., all the GABIRET teachers and scientists boarded our vans for the approximately 20 minute drive to the BioMuseo on Amador Causeway in Panama City.
The BioMuseo is a unique museum that celebrates biodiversity, the Great American Biotic Interchange, and anthropology. The museum took approximately ten years to complete from conception to the completion of construction. The BioMuseo was designed by famed architect Frank Gehry who also designed the Guggenheim Museum Bilboa in Spain. Gehry´s design incorporated art and science and rich symbolism in nearly all areas of the building.
What might not be known to many individuals is that Dr. Bruce McFadden has been advising the BioMuseo for the past ten years regarding its exhibits. I was given a rare opportunity to tour the BioMuseo with one of the individuals responsible for the installation of its exhibits. Our tour began with a running photographic slideshow detailing the history of Panama, the Panamanian people, and the construction of the museum. After viewing the slideshow, we entered the exhibition halls of the museum and began a tour of the rich biodiversity of Panama at various levels from genes to species and then to ecosystems.
The second exhibition hall detailed the perilous place that species have on Earth with approximately 100 animals cataloged as either extinct, endangered, brink of extinction, or those that are not in danger. Next, we moved to a hall that contains an eight minute movie that was a total sensory experience with eight large screens around the room and a screen on the floor projecting images regarding biodiversity in Panama. From the movie, we next ventured into the geology hall with artistic renderings of columnar joints (volcanic intrusions) and various rock specimens that can be found in Panama. From geology, we next ventured into the hall of fossils and the Hall of Americas. Dr. McFadden wanted to have a lasting contribution to the BioMuseo so he had his students (Sean Moran) at the University of Florida create replicas of fossils for their permanent exhibits. One of the specimens in the permanent exhibit is a replica of a fossil hand from a giant ground sloth that was found by Dr. Gary Morgan (one of the scientists on our trip) at Moss Farms in Ocala, Florida.
After viewing the geology of Panama and the fossils of animals engaged in the Great American Biotic Interchange, we moved to the signature exhibition hall for the BioMuseo titled “Collections of the Americas.” This unique exhibition contains life sized sculptures of animals that participated in the Great American Biotic Interchange including a horse that orignated in North American and migrated to South America. The “Collection of the Americas” concluded the first part of the museum tour.
The second area of the museum is an outdoor exhibit titled “La Huella Humana” or The Human Trail which explores the rich anthropology of the people of Panama.
Our museum visit closed with a tour an exhibit titled “Giant Sharks, Tiny Camels” which highlights the work of the Florida Museum of Natural History´s work along the Panama Canal over the last five years. The entrance of the exhibit displays a large mural that depicts an afternoon rainstorm in the Panamanian rainforest. This mural was commissioned by Dr. McFadden and created by one of Dr. McFadden´s undergraduate students. Symbolism is continued in this exhibit with the vertical planks of wood represented the various layers of sedimentary rock in which fossils are found. Highlights of the exhibit include a complete megalodon jaw with teeth and the best preserved marlin fossil in the world (found in the Chagres Formation, Panama).
After an amazing tour of the BioMuseo, the GABIRET teachers and scientists met to discuss the article “Gomphothere proboscidena from the late Neogene of Panama” written by Dr. Bruce McFadden in 2015. A robust discourse ensued regarding the importance of the discovery of a gomphothere tooth in Panama in 1959 by Dr. John Turner (GABIRET 2015 participant) and how his discovery was the southernmost occurence of a gomphothere in Central America. After discussion of GABI, sea levels, and geology of the Panamanian isthmus, the discussion turned to the importance of open access scientific articles. An open access article is a scientific article that can be accessed by anyone in the world for free.
The last major activity of the day was a collaborative lesson planning session between the GABIRET teachers and scientists. One of the expectations for the GABIRET teachers is that each teacher will develop at least two lesson plans that will be piloted in their classroom and made available for all teachers on the GABIRET website. I decided that I wanted to develop one lesson that utilized fossil shark teeth from a nearby creek to reconstruct the paleoenvironment with my students and one lesson that focused on the interpretation of scientific data and scientific argumentation. In what was a rare experience for nearly all teachers, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Bruce McFadden and Dr. Gary Morgan while developing the ideas for my lesson plans. I cannot put into words the experience I had when I sat across the table from two experts in paleontology and worked in collaboration with them to develop ideas and lessons for my students.
Our day at the BioMuseo concluded with whole group and small group reflection of the day´s events at the Balboa Yacht Club from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Reflection topics included the exhibits at the BioMuseo, continued lesson planning collaboration, and upcoming events.
Tomorrow is a field work day at Lake Alhajuela and I cannot wait to get back into the dirt!