Paleonet: Outreach for public science literacy

Margaret Mary Yacobucci mmyacob at
Thu Jun 2 14:12:13 UTC 2011

Hi everyone!

Paleontologists can reach out to kids, teachers, and the general public in many ways, and it is in all of our interests to do so.  Here are some suggestions and tips:

Working with PK-12 Students:
Prepare a brief presentation that involves a "show-and-tell" about local fossils (or if local fossils are lacking, dinosaurs or other popular group).  It doesn't need to be anything elaborate - focus on a few key concepts, like how fossils form and how we use our understanding of modern life to make inferences about the past ("What do things with pointy teeth eat?  So what do you think this dinosaur ate?")  Have fossils (or replicas) to pass around.  And leave time for questions from the students about what it's like to be a paleontologist.

Just too busy?  Help some of your undergraduate students to prepare a presentation and let *them* deliver the message that paleontology is fun and fascinating!

To find a venue to give your presentation, you can just call your local schools, or if your university offers an Education major, ask the Education faculty to help make contacts (they have to arrange student teaching assignments, and will be knowledgeable about all the area school districts).

As an alternative, you can invite PK-12 classes to come to you.  Advocate for a "STEM Day" hosted by your university, where local schools are invited to visit campus, tour the science labs, and participate in various short demonstrations and presentations.

Working with PK-12 Teachers:
As others have noted, the most effective way to improve science education may be to enhance the content knowledge of teachers.  Ask your local Education faculty (at your institution or other nearby institutions) about professional development days (often Saturdays during the academic year) or summer workshops that are routinely offered in your area.  Then propose an hour-long session at one of these venues in which you present some relevant science content and do some Q and A with the teachers.  Teachers especially appreciate ideas for hands-on classroom activities - the Paleontological Society's Education and Outreach Committee is currently working to develop some standards-based activities that could be freely shared.  If you have some extra fossils around that could be distributed to the teacher-participants as fossil kits, that would also be great!  One hour plus a little prep time on your part can make an impact in 20+ classrooms.

And, as was mentioned in another posting, be aware of the education majors (aka "pre-service teachers") in your own classroom and consider what they need from your course.  Talk with your institution's Education faculty and persuade them to encourage science education majors to take a paleontology or geology course (if they don't already).

Working with Amateur Groups:
Hundreds of amateur rock, gem, shell, and/or fossil clubs exist around the country.  These clubs vary in size, scope, and mission, but most welcome scientists willing to come give a lecture on their research to the group.  A Web search should reveal clubs in your region.  A quick email or phone call should be all it takes to score yourself an invitation to speak at one of their meetings.  Connecting with your local amateur group can really pay off for you, as well - you might learn about new fossil localities, see some spectacular specimens, and even make some life-long friends.

Thanks to Michael Hesemann for pointing out The Fossil Forum (, a website where amateurs can chat, show off their finds, ask questions, and trade fossils.  Consider joining this or other similar Web groups and providing your paleontological expertise.

Please get involved in outreach to students, teachers, and/or the public-everyone will benefit from your efforts!

Best wishes,

Dr. Peg Yacobucci
Education and Outreach Coordinator, Paleontological Society
Associate Professor, Department of Geology
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH 43403
Office: 419-372-7982
Email: mmyacob at

-----Original Message-----
From: paleonet-bounces at [mailto:paleonet-bounces at] On Behalf Of Michael
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 5:58 PM
To: 'PaleoNet'
Subject: Re: Paleonet: Outreach for public science literacy

Dear Peter and David,

if outreach is the issue I suggest scientists at all levels to work on Paleo literacy in the field (in the amateur fossil community and in schools). I am an amateur being attracted 4 years ago to microfossils by a professional geologist giving price-worthy lectures at an evening school in Hamburg, Germany. As a result I run now the project, which wants to build a link between science and community in order to rise the interest (literacy) on foraminifera. So I am in contact with scientists on the one side and amateur-paleontologists on the other and know the deep gap in between. 

So what may you do as scientists ? An example: In the US you have got the Fossil-Forum with 4969 members The main issue is trading, showing nice finds and chating. There are almost no posts on the story behind the scenery, no scientists present, no offerings by scientists for an interesting workshop or excursion. People there are interested in fossils but do not get a proper input to leave their collecting and trading attitude. Another issue would be the care for vivid local fossil clubs. If 200 paleontologists in the US would build or care for a local fossil club with 5-20 members meeting each month you would have 2000 people enthusiastic about the paleo-issue and well informed. 

Michael Hesemann Project
Hamburg, Germany
PS: The project has seen some progress with about 80 professional+amateur contributors. Our local microfossil-club has grown to roughly 20 members, we are organizing our first micro-workshop, show a foram-exhibition and give talks on forams at other fossil-clubs. ( We think such activities are an option to rise science literacy.

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