A visit to a classroom, virtually

By: Henry Fulghum

I recently had the pleasure of giving a virtual presentation to a high school class. I was invited by one of our high school volunteers, Carlos Lopez Diaz, to lead a guest seminar on paleontology at Highline Big Picture High School. All Big Picture students participate in what are called “Off-site Internships”. That is, throughout the year, students spend two days a week off-site working in internships in fields of interest. As a budding paleontologist, Carlos reached out to us in 2019, and has been an avid fossil sorter in the Wilson Mantilla Lab ever since.

As part of their internships, Big Picture students develop and teach a high school course with the help of an advisor, complete with readings, presentations, and a fully fleshed-out lesson plan. In Carlos’ “Paleontology” elective, he had also planned trips to our lab and the fossil collections at the Burke Museum, but was forced to make some adjustments with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, for the past semester, Carlos has been leading his “Paleontology” elective virtually. Some of the topics that Carlos worked into his curriculum included dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation, the evolution and reconstruction of Spinosaurus aegypticus, paleobiogeography, and the breakup of Pangaea. This week’s focus was “The Day-to-Day of Paleontology”, and in preparation, Carlos had his peers read articles covering paleontological dig sites, the process of fossil curation, and the importance of science communication. As Carlos’ off-site advisor, I was invited to present at his virtual seminar to cap off the week’s unit. As part of my presentation, I spoke about sediment processing, the Burke museum, the DIG Field School, and my responsibilities as a lab manager – as well as how those responsibilities have changed over the last year.

Going into a virtual classroom, I’m not sure what I expected. However, after months of working from home, I was happily surprised by how meaningful these educational interactions with students could be. Some of my favorite moments came during the Q&A session when I fielded questions like “What does the future of paleontology look like?” and “What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing a future in paleontology?” There was a high level of student enthusiasm and engagement!

Expanding access to science has always been the central goal of the DIG Field School, and perhaps now more than ever, it is crucial that we actively seek to connect and engage with the curious public. If any DIG alumni are interested in having members of the Wilson Mantilla Lab conduct a virtual visit to their classroom, please let us know!

Wilson Mantilla Lab manager and DIG instructor Henry Fulghum pictured in the Wilson Mantilla fossil sorting lab

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