Each spring, when the Robin first appear on the landscape, 70 students from Shady Side Academy Middle School in Fox Chapel, descend upon the Carnegie Museum for their yearly four-hour tour. Led by National Earth Science Teacher of the Year Award Winner, Matt Brunner, the seventy students are divided into four groups that partake in arranged educational activities that last 45 minutes each. One of the most important activities is lunch, without which, the entire school visit would collapse – seriously! Each group is toured by museum educators and staff i.e., interpreters for the natural history exhibits and CMOA art staff for that class. A unique, behind the scenes fossil and geology workshop in invertebrate paleontology is the highlight of the visit. After Mr. Brunner started teaching at Shady Side Academy in 2004, we developed a behind the scenes Earth Science learning/activities class. Years later, the class has become very popular with the students, chaperones and school administrators. Continuing with this collaboration, Matt developed an energy debate class for his sixth graders, which focuses on fossil fuels and other sources of energy in the student’s daily lives. To help address the student’s questions on energy, Matt invited Ray Follador and me, and other scientists to come to Shady Side Academy to talk about the use of fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewables in energy production. Each January, 70 bleary eyed sixth graders wait in anticipation for our 8 AM to 8:45 class in the school auditorium. The class is divided into two ten-minute PowerPoint presentations, a Question and Answer session, and the use of a 200-foot long rope, that fully engage the entire class to help visualize the depth of the Marcellus Shale Gas Deposit below the school parking lot.
Behind the Scenes in Invertebrate Paleontology: As each class of 18 students enter the Invertebrate Paleontology office, they are asked to sit down on the carpeted floor for a brief introduction to the section’s staff, and to sign their names to a gallon-size zip-lock plastic bag and a copy of the section’s Geology and Fossils Coloring Book. The class is then divided into three equal groups that rotate among the three scheduled activities that last approximately ten – twelve minutes each. The fossil activities include, 1. Breaking fossil rocks on the one-hundred-year-old rock breaker coordinated by Tara Pallas-Sheetz. 2. Building a fossil and rock kit from duplicate (non-accessioned) fossils with geologist Ray Follador. 3. Learning about the evolution of trilobites, the state fossil of Pennsylvania, Phacops rana (a trilobite) and fossil arthropods such as, eurypterid, horseshoe crab, and cockroach with Albert Kollar. In activity 3, some of the fossils shown on the table are naturally preserved in various colors of yellow, red, gray and black. Keeping in mind the fossil colors, each student is asked to use colored pencils to color in the black and white illustrations of arthropods on page 35 in the coloring book. For many students, this activity showcases their artistic talents. All students are encouraged to handle fossils and ask questions. Each group keeps their fossil kits and each student keeps the fossils collected from the rock trimmer activity (the reason for the plastic bag). The invertebrate paleontology learning activity class is later reviewed by Mr. Brunner in his Earth Science classes at Shady Side Academy.
Albert D. Kollar and Tara Pallas-Sheetz, Section of Invertebrate Paleontology
Ray Follador, Pittsburgh Geological Society
Matt Brunner, Shady Side Academy Middle School