24 October 2010

Out standing in the field

Cottonwood reverie

There are things that you can't teach in a classroom. For me, that list is growing enormously. In paleontology, for instance, nothing takes the place of taking the class to the site, rather than struggling to bring a simulation of the site into the classroom. This is an observational science, not an experimental one. If we want our students to be leaders in the field, I would argue that we have to take them into the field in the first place, to develop their skills as observers, documenters and problem-solvers.

We did just that again last week, visiting some key sites nearby and letting the students start working on an actual annual inventory of fossil resources. Because these sites have been poached, we were able to combine the inventory learning with an impromptu lecture on why this was CSI: South Dakota and what they should be looking for in terms of illegal removal and vandalism. It was a tremendous opportunity for all of us to learn in a half-day what would take me many more hours to explain in a classroom.

We all learn best by doing, by handling and manipulating, by seeing everything in situ and interconnected rather than separated and shorn of context. At some point, abstraction has to be linked back to the reality that first gave rise to the concept.

Om top of that, it was a perfect fall prairie day. Enjoy the scenery.

Moving up the hill from the cottonwoods

The group on the ridge in slanting morning light

Main hazard on this site: solitary male bison. This one was not much of a hazard, though. 

Fall colors on the hills and prairies

Subtle fall colors up close

Another bison, just as unimpressed.

No comments: