The project officially started January 2008. This project focuses on upper-elementary (fifth-sixth), middle-level (seventh-eighth), and ninth-grade students. The rationale for working with these particular grade level groups is to contribute to the learning progression of concepts related to evolution and the nature of science. We engaged students in several lessons on nature of science and inquiry, and in authentic science, as they examined, identified, and measured the fossils in their shale samples.
There is emphasis on working with children from underrepresented populations, including English language learner children.
The total number of teachers impacted in 2008 was 11. Fossil Finders reached 11 teachers, including 10 public school teachers during the first summer professional development sessions, and one private school teacher during the initial pilot testing.
The total number of students impacted in 2008 was 685. Thirty seventh- and eighth-grade students from a private school in Ithaca, N.Y., participated in the initial testing of the Fossil Finders curriculum and materials in April 2008 (95 percent were Caucasian). Thirty-five rising eighth-grade students from the Washington, D.C., area participated in the testing of the entire Fossil Finders curriculum and materials in July 2008 (100 percent African American).
Seven fifth- and sixth-grade classes totaling about180 students participated in year 1 (~50 percent Caucasian, ~30 percent African American, ~15 percent Latino, ~5 percent other).
Ten seventh- and eighth-grade classes totaling about 220 students participated in year 1 (~60 percent Caucasian, ~30 percent African American, ~5 percent Latino, ~5 percent other).
Seven ninth-grade classes totaling about 180 students participated in year 1 (~90 percent Caucasian, ~10 other).
Two 11th- and 12th-grade classes totaling about 40 students participated in year 1 (~95 percent Caucasian, ~5 percent other).
Project personnel Daniel Capps and Xenia Meyer and PRI personnel Samantha Sands and Trisha Smrecak supported the children and teachers in many of the classrooms.
Students in the Rochester area interacted with and asked Smrecak about what it is like to be a paleontologist.
Students in a middle-school classroom in Chenango Forks went on a field trip and entered data in the website.
Through videotaping classrooms we have evidence that most students were motivated and engaged in the scientific study.
To begin assessing the impact of the pilot Fossil Finders curriculum on student learning, we worked on constructing student assessments, in collaboration with our external evaluator. The developed instruments have three scales: (1) content science knowledge items, (2) nature of science items, and (3) inquiry items. We prepared one instrument for the elementary grade group and a second set of questions for the middle- and high-school group. We administered these assessments to students in our F-1 Pilot teachers classrooms at the beginning of the school year 2008 and plan to administer these near the end of the year spring 2009.
Additionally we asked our F-1 teachers to select a buddy teacher (not involved in the project but teaching similar classes in the same school) to provide a control group of students. The buddy teacher would administer the tests to classes similar to those of the Fossil Finders teachers. We are in the process of scoring the student knowledge assessments.
impact statement issue
First, many elementary and middle school level children lack a basic understanding of concepts of evolution, inquiry, and the nature of science. For the most part, there is a lack of research concerning children’s understanding of evolutionary processes.
Second, many students, including those of underrepresented groups, begin to lose interest in science in middle school. Children from underrepresented populations and those who struggle with the English language are particularly at risk of a lack of understanding or liking of science. Studies indicate that authentic science learning experiences may motivate these students in science learning. However, opportunities for children to engage in authentic fieldwork are limited in urban settings. Unlike other content areas of science, evolution lacks actual real-world and data-driven opportunities in the classroom.
The populations affected include all citizens, starting with young children to older adults.
impact statement response
The Fossil Finders project serves to stimulate interest in paleontology, biology, and geology in target demographics (females, minorities, and English language learners). A key focus is helping children from populations generally underrepresented in the sciences to understand geology and evolutionary concepts, in addition to what science is and what science is not.
Additionally, the project aims to motivate underrepresented children to learn more about science. During the first full year of the project (Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2008) we made excellent progress on all phases of the project: (1) scientific work; (2) educational materials development; and (3) website development.
The scientific team, led by co-principal investigators Dr. Allmon and Dr. Ross, identified a rich site near Ithaca from which fossil samples were removed and shipped to project classrooms. The team developed identification keys to enable students to identify fossils, including brachiopods, crinoids, trilobites, corals, clams, and others, and they developed protocols for measuring specimens.
Early in the year and during the summer, we tested middle school students’ ability to measure and interpret fossil evidence in two different settings: a local private school and a summer program for a diverse student group in Washington, D.C. We learned that we needed an expanded set of pictures of brachiopods and bivalves. Ideally, there will be illustrations of as many species of each that are likely to be found.
Early student feedback from the pilot testing included the following: What students liked most: (1) it was less structured than most things and (2) finding and identifying the fossils. What students disliked: (1) recording the data and (2) the group did not have many fossils. We piloted these data sheets with our group of teachers during the summer professional development work session (described later).
The materials development team, co-led by Dr. Barbara Crawford and Dr. Ross and doctoral students Daniel Capps and Xenia Meyer, developed draft lessons to engage children in their classrooms. During the summer, we revised lesson drafts and worked to further develop the curriculum. Literacy strategies aligned with research-based findings were infused into the Fossil Finders curriculum. Components of the framework of instructional congruency (Lyukx & Lee, 2007) for English language learners were embedded into each lesson plan. These components include: (1) integrating cultural experiences and materials into instruction, (2) inviting the use of native language during instruction, (3) scaffolding instruction for English language development, and (4) sharing scientific authority.
Throughout fall 2008, we scheduled classroom visits with all P-1 teachers. In particular, we gathered in-depth analysis of classroom instruction in classrooms having a high percentage of English language learner students.
Related to Fossil Finders website, we have worked closely with Elizabeth Ellis, project coordinator for the Cornell Information Technologies Website Development Team, to design and fully develop an interactive website. The site, www.fossilfinders.org, went live in November and includes an interactive database for students and teachers to input their data from fossil samples.
impact statement summary
The thrust of my research is understanding and enhancing teachers and students’ understandings of scientific inquiry and the nature of science, including knowledge of models and modeling in science and evolutionary concepts.
The Fossil Finders project engages children in classrooms across the country in an authentic investigation of Devonian fossils in order to enhance learning about evolutionary and earth science concepts, inquiry, and the nature of science. Goals include developing materials to support children in the use of evidence in constructing explanations of natural phenomena and to motivate culturally and linguistically diverse groups of children to engage in learning science.
The project is a collaboration of the Cornell University Department of Education and the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) in Ithaca, N.Y. Classrooms from two grade spans (fifth-sixth and seventh-ninth) receive shipped samples of layers of shale from an Upstate New York outcrop and enter data on an interactive website, where children learn how to identify the fossils they find and add their own data to an emerging database.