There is new hope for kids who spend their free time digging in their backyards in search of dinosaur bones, wishing they could be like the paleontologists from “Jurassic Park,” but maybe with a tamer outcome.

Claudia and Laura working on a laptop
Claudia Grant (right), iDigFossils project coordinator, assists Laura Beach, a Santa Cruz science teacher, at a scanning workshop. Claudia Grant (right), iDigFossils project coordinator, assists Laura Beach, a Santa Cruz science teacher, at a scanning workshop.

Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

Florida Museum of Natural History and University of Florida researchers at the College of Education recently received a $1.2 million grant to provide 3-D scanners and printers, new laptop computers, and curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering and math for students in grades 6-12 in Florida and California.

“I don’t think this project would be successful without the collaboration of the College of Education and the museum,” said UF associate professor of educational technology and principal investigator Pavlo Antonenko. “The museum collaborators bring an expertise in paleontology and the related methods and technologies, and the College of Education can determine how this of type of content, approaches and technologies can be integrated in the classroom to encourage and engage children, and to support student learning.”

Called iDigFossils, the three-year program funded by the National Science Foundation will enable researchers to study the impact of integrating hands-on STEM activities using technology and paleontology at different grade levels.

“The goal for this project is to help teachers motivate students and get them interested in STEM fields,” said Claudia Grant, project coordinator and graduate assistant of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum. “Our hope is students will study whatever math topics they would normally be learning, but also learning how to apply that in science, and vice versa.”

3-D scanner and fossil teeth
Fossil horse teeth are scanned using iDigFossil’s equipment.

Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

The project will provide technology to 10 middle and high schools, including Gainesville’s P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.

“iDigFossils is essentially bringing the museum into the classroom,” Antonenko said.

Teachers trained in professional development courses this summer will design and execute activities that will allow student to engage with and explore fossils in terms of evolution, biology and climate change combined with math and science topics. Each teacher also will receive a $1,500 stipend for their contributions to the project.

“We don’t want to interfere with their yearlong plans and their curricula, so we’re only asking them to devote a week per semester to do this,” Grant said. “If they want to use the technology more and incorporate it in a different way later on, that is up to them since they keep the materials.”

iDigFossils researchers are also developing computer applications that will run statistical analyses on specimens and allow students to view and enhance 3-D images in layers.

“All of these apps are designed to help the students conceptualize what they are working with,” Grant said.

The design-based research project will be adjusted in response to observations, interviews and surveys by participants, Grant said.

“The outcome of year one will largely impact what we adjust and do in year two,” she said. “Nothing is set in stone.”

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