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Willis teachers 'dig in' to learning

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  • | 4:00 a.m. August 15, 2012
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LAKEWOOD RANCH — Teachers Wendy Schneider, Cinda Byrd and Lisa Scherpf had their own theories about what it’s like to be a scientist.

And this summer, they put those theories to the test.

Through a program by the Toomey Foundation for the Natural Sciences, the Willis Elementary School teachers traveled to Nebraska, in June, with a representative of the South Florida Museum for a weeklong lesson in archeology. The women not only learned the scientific process archeologists use on- and off-site, but they dug up fossils, visited museums and went horseback riding, among other adventures.
Now, they plan to use what they learned about science and history in their fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms.

“It will make (science) more real for the kids,” said Scherpf, who will teach fourth grade this year. “You can also dispel a lot of myths (kids have). The kids expect everything that was ever buried and died to be big. We can correct those misconceptions.”

Schneider agreed.

“We took pictures of everything we did,” she said. “We thought we could put the process in a slideshow and show the kids.”

Each day of their stay in Nebraska, the women would start their morning digging on property leased by the Toomey Foundation. They’d break for lunch, and then spend the afternoons touring museums, horseback riding or digging on-site again.

The digs, which consumed the bulk of their time, proved to be more challenging than they anticipated. They climbed the dusty, rocky terrain hunting for even the smallest fossil.

“You had to walk around and look for something that didn’t belong,” Scherpf said, adding the landscape was the same colors as the fossils for which they were looking. “It was kind of like finding a needle in a haystack.”

When the women did stumble across a fossilized animal, they had to determine how the animal died, so they could figure out where they should dig. After excavating the animal with a mass of dirt around it, they covered it in plaster to be delivered to the preparator.

Although hunting for fossils proved cumbersome, the women said their frustration was well-worth their finds — rodent teeth, bones and some other items to bring back to their classrooms.

“It’s a lot of hard labor; you had to dig this hard rock to get to it and around (the fossil),” Byrd said. “But, it was exciting. You wanted to find something, so you could dig more.”

Schneider added: “We all found a turtle, and we all found an Oreodont skull. Those are at the preparers until (we get them back put together) next summer. If it was really nice, you didn’t get to keep it.”

Although it’ll be about two months since they returned from their trip, the teachers said they can’t wait to share their finds with their new students, who report for the first day of school Monday, Aug. 20.

Additionally, all three teachers said they would love to go back and dig more next summer.

“It was such a great life-experience,” Schneider said. “I learned so much.”

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].



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