What is up with K-12 Paleontology Education?

Kids LOVE Paleontology!

01_kid paleontologist

This isn’t my writing (I found it someplace online), but in 3rd grade I wrote to my teacher, Mrs. Greene, that when I grew up I wanted to be a paleontologist and study fossils in Utah. I did grow up to earn a PhD in paleontology, and did study some fossils in Utah when I traveled there for field camp. It was awesome – literally a lifelong goal coming true. Although to be fair, before I settled for paleontology, I wanted to be an astronaut.

Anyway, kids love fossils, dinosaurs, and adventure.  Paleontologists are definitely a passionate group.  But, do all kids who start out young and ambitious like this one become paleontologists?

Ohio Revised Academic Content Standards

If you’ve talked to a teacher much you know that teachers don’t get to choose the content of their classes. They get a big list from the state (usually) about what their class is supposed to cover.  Here are the standards in the state of Ohio that are specific to paleontology:

Grade 2:

  • Some kinds of individuals that once lived on Earth have completely disappeared, although they were something like others that are alive today.

Grade 4:

  • Changes in an organism’s environment are sometimes beneficial to its survival and sometimes harmful.
  • Fossils can be compared to one another and to present-day organisms according to their similarities and differences.

Grade 8:

  • Earth’s crust consists of major and minor tectonic plates that move relative to each other.
  • Evidence of the dynamic changes of Earth’s surface through time is found in the geologic record.
  • Diversity of species occurs through gradual processes over many generations. Fossil records provide evidence that changes have occurred in number and types of species.

High School: Physical Geology *Not a required course

  • –At the high school level, the long-term history of Earth and the analysis of the evidence from the geologic record (including fossil evidence) must be investigated.
  • –The analysis of data and evidence found in the variety of dating techniques (both absolute and relative), the complexity of the fossil record, and the impact that improving technology has had on the interpretation and continued updating of what is known about the history of Earth must be investigated.

The takeaway? Students in K-12 LOVE paleontology, but get to spend very little time learning anything about it.

High School Earth Science

02_Schools offering Earth Science


Science Fair Trends

Ohio Science Day is the premier event for k-12 student research in our state. Students are permitted to enter projects from any scientific field.  When given the chance, do they complete projects in paleontology?

No. They don’t.

03_Precollege research

So out of more than 22,000 projects, only 550 were in Earth Science. Of those 550, only 6 were in paleontology (listed here with title, year, and grade level):

  • The Isolation of DNA from Ancient Compressed Plant Fossils (1998-2000, 10th-12th)
  • Talking rocks: The fossils of Lodi City Park  (1999, 12th)
  • A Systematic Study of Fossil Fish from the Upper Devonian Chagrin Shale (2000, 12th)
  • A case study of techniques for the excavation, preparation and preservation of late Jurassic period large vertebrate fossils (2005, 11th)
  • How pressure and heat affect fossilization (2011, 6th)
  • Fossil formation: What makes the best fossil? Mammals, crustaceans, or plants? (2014, 7th)

What is happening? Children have a love for dinosaurs, and fossils, and paleontology – but by the time they are in high school, that excitement is gone.  When allowed to choose from any science topic, only 0.027% choose paleontology.

We start with kids who love dinos. And fossils. And an insatiable need to understand the world and their place in it.

So, paleontologists. Get out there! Show kids how awesome paleontology is!

Do you know some great paleontologists who have great outreach events? Share them below!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s