Powhatan School welcomed paleontologists Dr. Aaron A. Alford and Jason E. Osborne to campus on Monday, April 16 to kick off Earth Week programs. The scientists are researchers with the Virginia based Paleo Quest program and Host Researchers with The JASON Project. Mr. Osborne and Dr. Alford shared their passion for scientific research with students of all ages during a captivating all-school presentation.
Much of their work is conducted in rivers across the Southeast. Throughout the presentation, the team of scientists not only discussed unearthing exciting new fossils, but through supplemental video the students were able to see actual underwater excavation being performed at two different river sites in Virginia and North Carolina.
Their presentation also highlighted their research on the Popes Creek Sands Member, a layer of marine sediments deposited during the Miocene Epoch. During the presentation the Paleo Quest team showed video of a fossil site they are currently sampling and explained the unique characteristics of the area. Sediment from this site has been shipped to various schools, including Powhatan School, through a special research program they designed.
Osborne and Alford developed citizen science modules that allow students to participate in answering important questions. More importantly, these modules will allow non-scientists to experience every phase of a scientific endeavor beginning with the development of a research question and ending with the publication of findings.
The initial module is called “SharkFinder”, and true to its name, it is aimed at finding fossil elasmobranch (shark, skates and ray) remains in the Atlantic Coastal Plain of Virginia and Maryland. To date, elasmobranches have been poorly characterized despite the fact that shark fossils from this region have been a favorite of collectors and paleontologist for more than a century. SharkFinder, a distributive process, will allow classrooms the opportunity to search through highly concentrated fossil-bearing media to find and report shark fossils. These fossils will then be sent to Dr. Bretton Kent at the University of Maryland. He and his team will then publish on the fossils. All participating classrooms in the pilot run will be acknowledged in the resulting professional publication and students that find certain unique fossils will be acknowledged by name in the publication.
The JASON Project introduced Paleo Quest to Kathleen Hobbs to try the SharkFinder module as a pilot test at Powhatan.
“We started using the module two weeks ago in the classroom. This specific unit of study fits in perfectly with our 7th Grade Earth Science curriculum”, says Upper School science teacher Mrs. Kathleen Hobbs. “We are studying the earth’s geologic history, so to be able to examine real fossils in the classroom has allowed students the opportunity to experience authentic hands-on research.”
“As an educator, I can hardly express how very excited we are to have the scientists who created the curriculum and spearheaded the research experience on campus to talk to the students.”
Both scientists are Host Researchers with The JASON Project and their visit was made possible through the exceptional partnership with the organization. Powhatan School would like to especially thank Don and Mary Shockey for the recent generous donation to the school to fund the addition of The JASON Project curriculum to the Upper School science curriculum, enhancing Powhatan’s focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) education.