Departmental museum liaison

Jen here –

For the past two years I have been the department coordinator or liaison to our local natural history museum. The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture has a variety of exhibits from Human Origins to Ancient Egypt. One of the exhibits on their main floor includes a geology gallery that explores the rocks, fossils, and environments of Tennessee through time.

The coordinator position is voluntary and aims to get undergraduate and graduate students involved in running tours in the geology exhibit. Local private, public, and homeschool groups can sign up to be given tours of specific galleries in the museum. The curator of education will email me when groups sign up and I request volunteers through the department. Our department has a core group of volunteers that are very dedicated to helping out at the museum.

The exhibit tours are relatively simple and we have tailored lessons to go with various age groups. For example, I led a tour last week of 4th graders from a private school. The tour begins by discussing plate tectonics and what the different plate movements are and what natural disasters can occur at these boundaries. We watch an animation on the movements over the last 750 million years and focus on the changes that occur to Tennessee. We talk about how fossils can help us better understand locations of specific plates in the past.

Jen leading a tour with local Knoxville 4th graders.
Then we get to talk about different types of fossils and fossil formation. I pass around a few samples, usually a mold of very old snails, petrified wood, and several examples of teeth. We talk about shape, how the fossils formed, and what information we can get from the fossils. Then we move through the gallery and explore how Tennessee has changed through time. For much of the Ice Age with lots of large hairy animals.

Many schools are unable to go on many field trips and in some cases this is the classes first trip outside of the classroom. Each tour is very different but helps us tailor our science communication skills to a variety of age ranges. It is difficult to pass up opportunities to explore deep time with young students that get very excited to talk about the past and ancient life.

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