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Contact:
Heather Almquist, associate researcher, UM College of Arts and Sciences, 406-370-0139, heather.almquist@umontana.edu .

Paleo Exploration Project Chosen As NSF 2010 Highlight

Jun. 08, 2010

MISSOULA – 

The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources has selected The University of Montana Paleo Exploration Project’s “DinoMap: Spatial Analysis of Fossil Finds in the Northern Plains” as one of its 69 Highlights for 2010.

Highlights showcase exceptional NSF presentations and serve to inform a diverse national constituency about the projects’ work and impacts.

Led by UM College of Arts and Sciences associate researcher Heather Almquist and geosciences Professor George Stanley, who directs the University’s Paleontology Center, the Paleo Exploration Project engaged K-12 teachers and middle school students from eastern Montana in the use of geographic information systems as a paleontological prospecting tool.

The novel approach resulted in the discovery of important dinosaur fossils, as well as many reptiles, invertebrates and plants. Participants also discovered evidence of ancient environments, including rivers, swamps, beaches and shallow seas.

During a series of workshops, UM Paleontology Center staff provided teachers with background on eastern Montana’s geologic history, formations and fossils. Professor Lisa Blank of UM’s Phyllis J. Washington School of Education and Human Sciences used a curriculum customized for K-12 teachers with little computer experience to build their competence in geospatial technologies. Teachers then were able to use GIS to evaluate geologic formations, topography, land ownership and road access to identify sites with potential for significant fossil deposits.

“The crux of the program has been to give teachers the opportunity to take what they had learned in the workshops into an authentic, field-based summer research experience with University scientists and students,” Almquist said. “The excitement around ‘doing real science’ was truly inspiring for teachers and students alike.”

The experience helped participating teachers develop and implement technology-embedded, inquiry-based learning activities in their classrooms, and some have started to train and mentor peers in their school districts.

In addition to giving teachers new skills, the project piqued students’ interest in science. It broadened participation of underrepresented groups in science and technology by focusing on teachers and students in an underserved region of the state.

Curriculum and outcomes of the Paleo Exploration Project are disseminated to education research and K-12 communities through national and international conferences and publications.

For more information about the project, go online to http://itestlrc.edc.org/paleo-exploration-project-spatial-analysis-fossil-finds-northern-plains or e-mail Almquist atheather.almquist@umontana.edu or Stanley at george.stanley@umontana.edu . 

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