Sadly, today is our last day in Panama, and our last chance to explore beautiful Lago Alajuela. We decided to split up into three groups: The first group would stay at the hotel to collaborate and craft lessons that infuse our Panama experiences with the goal of inspiring students to become budding scientists. The second group was headed by our fearless leaders Bruce and Gary, who would take stock of all our discoveries and make arrangements to get all the fossils and sediments safely home to be analyzed and cataloged. Our last group would return to Lago Alajuela, the island that had been so fruitful, in order to explore new locations.
The group of teachers that remained at the hotel had the tasks of washing the remaining Gatun fossils to be taken to share with students in their classrooms, and collaborate on lessons. By all accounts, the day was a resounding success: ideas were shared and lesson plans formed. This is an exceptional group of educators. The creativity and desire to engage students in authentic experiences is incredible. Throughout our time together I was struck by how each and every person in this group thrives on grappling with the big questions, and is thrilled by the natural world around them. These are truly life-long learners!
I was lucky enough to be included within the Lago Alajuela group. I was excited to have one final day in the field, and more importantly, one last chance at finding that Meg tooth that had been eluding me. We set off on our leaky boat, scanning for desirable outcrops. We settled upon a promising spot, scrambled off, and began to explore. After zero success, we regrouped and decided to break into two groups. One group would get off the boat and explore a new location while the other group would explore Isla Bahia.
Both groups were excited and anxious to begin the hunt. The first group had great success. Among the finds were four meg teeth (one in situ), a manatee rib, a huge crocodile vertebrae, a turtle shell, and a tooth from Becca’s Snaggletooth shark.
The island group included Adam “Meg Tooth” Wade, who found his first meg tooth of the day within moments of stepping onto land. This was the first of four Meg teeth Adam found that day, making his grand total a whopping eight Meg teeth for the trip. We are all hoping his shark tooth attraction is limited to fossils, as he will be at surf camp for the next several days. Best of luck Adam.
Claudia also found two meg teeth, Sean found one, and I was ecstatic to finally join the “Meg Tooth Club” myself! Meg teeth were not the only finds of the day. Adam also found a mammal tooth that caused lots of puzzled looks and head scratching. Amanda found a patella, possibly from a horse. Sean found a porcupine dental plate and a ray tooth. We also found several pieces of bone, most of which were very difficult to identify.
Before we knew it, our final day was coming to a close and it was time to head back. Most of us were in full “adventure and discovery” mode and it was difficult for us to tear ourselves away. Alas, we boarded our leaky boat one last time for the wet, yet beautiful ride back to the van.
For me, today captured the feeling I would most like to bring back to my students. I felt like I was on an adventure, and that at any moment we might make a find that will redefine human understanding of the Great American Biotic Interchange. I felt like I was part of the scientific process. In fact, earlier in the trip, I found a crocodile vertebrae that was placed into a cast for further study. My name is written on the bag along with the location in which it was found. I will share this experience with my students to emphasize that “science belongs to everyone”; therefore, anyone may contribute at any time if she simply keeps her eyes open and mind attentive.
Although I won’t be taking students to Panama, I aspire to involve them in the process of scientific thinking. Furthermore, echoing how I felt today, I wish to inspire being humbled by the natural world around them, a sense of wonder, and a willingness to risk asking difficult questions for which there are no known answers.
Perhaps their names will be written upon future finds. Nothing would make me happier.