Life Discovery Conference

Jen here –

I was recently part of the 5th Life Discovery – Doing Science Biology Education, a conference for science educators that is part of the Ecological Society of America. This year had a theme of “Microbiomes to Ecosystems: Evolution and Biodiversity Across Scale, Space and Time” and was hosted in Gainesville, Florida! There were a few local partners including iDigBio, UF Biodiversity Institute, Florida Museum, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. I’ve been working on a few projects with various iDigBio team members and their education and outreach coordinator, Molly, reached out to me to see if I would be interested in participating in the Life Discovery Conference.

The Life Discovery Conference header. A really interesting way to tie together all of the aspects of biology!

I was representing the Florida Museum, Thompson Earth Systems Institute, and the FOSSIL Project! The conference was held over two full days at a local hotel conference center. The first day had an opening keynote presented by the amazing paleontologist, Dr. Lisa White from the University of California, Berkeley. She spoke about all of the digital resources available through the University of California Museum of Paleontology website. Many of which I knew about because I had used them as a tool some time during my academic journey!

Dr. Lisa White presenting on Thursday morning of the conference on a variety of amazing projects to explore paleobiology, evolution, and biodiversity in deep time!!!

The keynote was followed by breakout sessions where we could go learn about different programs, activities, and/or resources that had been implemented or evaluated by educators. This was a lot of fun for me to listen in and engage with. I learned a lot about different programs or lessons that are available for a variety of topics. Then we returned to the main ballroom to do networking discussions on different topics. I was leading a discussion on ‘Teaching Evolution through the Fossil Record.’

In my session we went through a few different questions and talked about successes and challenges that had been faced in the classroom, such as: (1) Do you teach evolution in your classroom and is it met with resistance? (2) Do you already incorporate fossils into your lessons on biodiversity? Would you want to or could you more? (3) New and different ways to include fossils into your lessons. (4) Is geology content a barrier for you or your students? At the end of our discussion we were to determine three takeaways and three recommendations for the future.

One of the break out sessions was on planting science, an online mentoring program to help students engage with different aspects of plant biology!
General takeaways

  • Fossils are important aspects of teaching evolution and biodiversity
  • Tangible and physical evidence such as fossils or the timeline where you walk through
  • Accessibility barriers in terms of cost of fossils and other tools

Recommendations

  • Finding community connections to help get fossils or content expertise
  • Exploiting online resources and technology to 3D print your own fossils
  • Using fossils to teach other subjects outside of evolution

After the discussion session, I had to run across campus for a meeting with the FOSSIL Project team. I missed one session of talks and lunch during my meeting but I was able to return to the conference for the last two sessions where people were sharing content and experiences. The conference adjourned shortly after that and picked up the following day first thing in the morning. I was part of the keynote panel that began promptly at 8 AM. This panel consisted of three early career professionals in related fields. We each gave 5 minute presentations on how our research incorporates large data sets and some information on outreach initiatives we have been part of. Following our presentations we fielded questions from the audience on our research, past experiences, and outreach events. It was a very successful hour and I was very fortunate to be invited to participate!

Overall the conference was a huge success. There were not many participants, maybe 100 at most. So it was a very small intimate conference and everyone had so many fantastic ideas and resources that I really learned a lot!

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