The archaeologists weren’t graduate students, or even college undergrads. They were all sixth-graders from Williamsburg-James City County middle schools, participating in the STEM Education Alliance’s first RealScience Fest.
The STEM Education Alliance at William & Mary’s School of Education works with school systems to inspire more students to enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. Last weekend, that inspiration came in the form of an archaeological dig.
STEM invited the students to participate in the Mastodon Matrix Project. In 2000, the remains of a mastodon were discovered in the backyard of a Hyde Park, N.Y. home. Facing a deadline to complete excavation and resume a pond project, excavators removed 22,000 pounds of “matrix” (sediment) from the site.
In an inspired outsourcing of work, they created the Mastodon Matrix Project, which ships sediment to volunteers, who then sort through the matrix to find bone fragments, twigs, shells and, often, animal hairs that sometimes are shown to be from a mastodon.
The WJCC students spent Saturday afternoon digging through 3 kilos of matrix. They worked carefully to sift through the dirt, using handheld magnifying glasses with light attachments to look at each speck and cleaning their findings gently with a toothbrush. With tweezers, they placed their discoveries in marked containers. Any materials they gathered, along with the soil, will be sent to Cornell University, where the mastodon excavation is being researched.
The students took their mission seriously, carefully shifting the dirt around to make sure, literally, no stone was left unturned. A Hornsby Middle School student named Melanie told me it changed the way she thought about dirt. “Usually, I just step on it!” she said. Now she’s wondering what other treasures might be hiding underground.
Over the course of the day, the students weighed the dirt (both before and after they removed elements), gently washed the rocks they found and sorted them by color. They also did a flotation activity, placing the leftover dirt in blue bowls full of water to see what sunk and what floated. Those materials were then removed and catalogued.
Kids at every table told me they were attracted to the one-day dig because they liked the idea of playing in the dirt, they think dinosaurs are interesting and they love science. When I asked her if she would ever consider a career in science, Toano student Leigha told me matter-of-factly, “I’m going into the engineering field because they’re desperate for women.”
That’s exactly what STEM Alliance project specialist Katie Green wanted to hear. Green, who coordinated the event, wanted to expose the students to the variety of careers that fall under the STEM umbrella. From the one project, I could see how students could be exposed to several careers: paleontology, archaeology, chemistry, geology and computer modeling.
The STEM Alliance at William & Mary began in 2004. Learn more about its services here.
HRA Presents ‘The Little Mermaid’
Hampton Roads Academy is taking audience members under the sea when it presents “The Little Mermaid, Jr.,” starting tonight.
The show is based on the Disney musical and features more than 30 student performers. It was directed by Jim Gandolfo, with assistance from two HRA seniors: Courtney McMasters and Stephanie Shields.
The musical, performed by middle schools students, will be performed at 7 p.m. today, Saturday and Feb. 1 and 2 in HRA’s Svein J. Lassen Auditorium. Tickets are available at $5 for students and $10 for adults. All tickets will be sold at the door and no reserved seating is available. For more information, call (757) 884-9139.
Providence Classical Hosts BBQ on Sunday
Providence Classical School is hosting two open houses prior to open enrollment, starting with a family BBQ lunch on Sunday.
From noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, families can enjoy a lunch and classroom tours, while meeting with faculty to discuss the classical curriculum, which includes lessons in Greek, Latin, logic and debate.
On Feb. 7, the school hosts its Classroom Observation Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Prospective parents and students are invited to tour the school and visit classes.
The school is located at 6000 Easter Circle in Williamsburg. For more information, call 565-2900 or click here.