Paleontology with Girls Inc.

Sarah and Jen here –

Jen walking around with a Spinosaurus tooth.
We went to a local elementary school to participate with the local Girls Inc. chapter in Knoxville. The goal was to get these young girls (K-5) excited about science and explore our science with them! We are both paleontologists so we brought a ton of really cool fossils and some of our common field equipment.

To begin, we had each of them draw a scientist. Many of them drew themselves conducting science! This is exactly what we were hoping for; often, girls will draw a male scientist rather than themselves or other females. We had a variety of scientists: engineers, botanists, aerospace engineers, soil scientists, oceanographers, and chemists! Many of them drew themselves out in the field or in a laboratory setting. It was very refreshing to see so many awesome career ideas from these young students.

Sarah walking around with a trilobite.
We went through the basic field gear we bring out in the field: a hammer, sunscreen, a hat, a compass, a notebook, fossil guidebook, and pencils! We explained why we need this basic gear and how we use it in the field. We then discussed different types of fossils. To do this, we brought mostly large specimens that they could visualize the modern relatives. We walked around with each specimen, allowing the girls to make observations, touch the specimen, and think about what it could be. It’s always easiest to prompt them into figuring out what the specimen could be. We would ask “Is it a plant or an animal?” A very simple question but not always clear from the fossil record! We would then discuss specific features of the specimen. Are there patterns? Could you see any strange features? Does anything look like something you see today? The questions help the students interact with us and they were not afraid to speak up. It’s always such a pleasure to interact with young students that are so curious because they ask the best questions!

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