Paleonet: Outreach for public science literacy

David Kopaska-Merkel davidkm at
Thu Jun 2 14:32:07 UTC 2011

In Alabama we have two active amateur fossil collecting groups.
Professional paleontologists in the state work with both groups, giving
lectures at meetings and providing other kinds of support as needed.
Both amateur groups support professional paleontology by donating
noteworthy specimens to museums in the state. They do this primarily
because their origin in the 1980s involved professional paleontologists
from the very beginning. One group volunteers at a teacher fossil field
workshop. The other group successfully rescued an important fossil site
and visits it at least monthly. All important specimens are donated to
museums. Direct interaction with teachers is more difficult, because
they are overworked, but visiting classrooms and participating in
teacher professional development days, as already suggested here, are
very valuable to teachers. Some groups in this state make and distribute
fossil kits and rock and mineral kits for teachers. A group at the
University of South Alabama also trains trainers, some of these are
undergraduate students, who teach teachers how to use the kits. This is
probably one of the most effective forms of outreach.

There is more, but this is what comes to mind at the moment.


David C Kopaska-Merkel
Geological Survey of Alabama
Box 869999
Tuscaloosa AL 35486-6999
fax 205-349-2861

Got questions? sednet might have answers:

-----Original Message-----
From: paleonet-bounces at [mailto:paleonet-bounces at] On
Behalf Of Margaret Mary Yacobucci
Sent: Thursday, June 02, 2011 9:12 AM
To: PaleoNet
Subject: Re: Paleonet: Outreach for public science literacy

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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