High school students are stepping into the prehistoric past by unearthing and learning about dinosaur fossils dating 150 million years through an Oklahoma program aiming to make science fun for students of all ages.
While immersed in excavation sites across the region, students in ninth through 11th grade dig side-by-side with working paleontologists through the ExplorOlogy Paleo Expedition Program, Jes Cole, head of education at the Sam Noble Museum, said. The educational outreach program was launched in 2007 as a partnership between the museum and the Whitten-Newman Foundation.
“We started with dinosaurs because it was something that not only Oklahoma had but kids were just really interested in,” Cole said. “The whole idea is that we want students to really become the scientists and have a chance to explore the world the same way as scientists do.”
Every summer, 12 students and several professionals from the Sam Noble Museum and the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences venture to new locations with hopes of discovering new finds, making new friends and learning more about paleontology, she said. All fossils found are put in the museum's collection for research.
Dig site purchased
Last year, Reggie Whitten, ExplorOlogy co-founder, purchased land at Black Mesa State Park to be used as a regular dig site for the program, he said.
“Some of the most famous dinosaurs in the world are down there at Sam Noble Museum, but we're going to put some more down there and they're going to come from here (Black Mesa), and they're going to be dug up by Oklahoma kids,” Whitten said. “Now that is cool.”
The site at Black Mesa, referred to as the Homestead Quarry, is close to the quarries previously discovered by the Sam Noble Museum's first director, J. Willis Stovall, in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
The Homestead site serves as the first professional quarry work in the area since before World War II. That is exciting for the students, Whitten said.
Anne Weil, research associate at the Sam Noble Museum and associate professor at OSU-CHS, has worked as a paleontologist for 20 years, digging at various locations around the country, she said. The site at Black Mesa is distinctive to her because of it serves science and education.
“Everyone who works on this site is participating in a real scientific endeavor,” Weil said. “It's very worthwhile. You're really enriching people's understanding of what science is.”