By Kermit Shields
Two main themes in education today are “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and “Get Outdoors.” Both of these are critical parts of education if we are to inspire school students to understand, respect, and protect our natural environment today and in the future.
I have had a chance to promote both of these themes at Dinosaur Ridge and with other organizations.
Each year, 15,000 students come to Dinosaur Ridge, just outside of Morrison, Colorado, for guided tours. As a volunteer, I have done hundreds of these tours and talked to thousands of school students.
Every tour is different, depending on the age of the students and the science focus in their classroom. As an example, this year I helped to pilot a hands-on “Math Tour,” where middle school students were able to calculate the rate of deposition of 104.5 million-year-old formations and calculate the rate of travel of Cretaceous dinosaurs, based on fossil trackways. This used the geologic outcrops to illustrate practical applications for developing math skills. Along with others at Dinosaur Ridge, I have also done one-on-one mentoring to help develop individual’s interest in science.
“We try to teach all students how to make observations, how to draw conclusions, and how to ‘do science’.”
The Community Resource Inc. program helps to coordinate these mentorships. Last year, I worked with a fifth-grade scientist from University Park Elementary School for several months; he had an interest in the connection between birds and dinosaurs. Research at Dinosaur Ridge, at local museums, and through further reading helped him to build on his excitement about this chosen subject.
I have found that dinosaurs are a great hook to foster excitement about science. Many students who come to Dinosaur Ridge say that they want to grow up to be vertebrate paleontologists, read to go out and find the next new dinosaur. A few might do that, but most won’t. We try to teach all students how to make observations, draw conclusions, and how to “do science.”
Dinosaur Ridge is a National Landmark and its location right on the edge of Metro Denver offers a unique opportunity for visitors, both local and from afar, to help understand our rich geologic history. And it offers a great opportunity for volunteers to help inspire young scientists.
Of course, talking about dinosaurs is not the only way to inspire young scientists. I have been fortunate to have been involved with a joint project between Denver Public Schools Outdoor Education Program and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. On selected Wednesdays during the school year, we meet a busload of third graders and spend a full day split between an outdoor experience in the foothills and an indoor experience at the museum.
Helping students to understand and appreciate our Colorado environment has been a rewarding experience for me. I have been blessed to be able to donate my time, treasure, and talent to a good cause and hope to be able to continue for many years.
Kermit and Beth Shields support Friends of Dinosaur Ridge through their Denver Foundation donor-advised fund. They both support science education as volunteers at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Kermit is a longtime member of the Foundation's Environmental Affinity Group.
Kermit is a science mentor and classroom presenter through Community Resources Inc. His main focus, though, is supporting science education as a volunteer and board member at the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, a non-profit organization focused on the preservation of its resources and the education about these resources.