P. Edronkin

Fossils May Kill Classroom Boredom

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I think that one of the things that teachers, professors and educators in general should do in order to the teaching process particularly at high school and college levels is to put themselves in the shoes of their students, at least from time to time. Save some exceptions, my passage thorough high school and college has been one signed by boredom, especially during some lessons which I already knew, like when geography teachers came into the classroom and began talking and talking about rivers, seas and mountains without even showing a picture of those landscapes; it is indeed important as a matter of culture to know that Mount Everest is the highest mountain on Earth, but for the students it would be nice to have a photo to view.

I remember quite well those dark, early-morning torture sessions during many winters while sleepiness tried hard to take everyone back to the world of dreams… even the teacher talking in autopilot. These teachers talked about many things that I already knew because I had the fortune of travelling with my parents and then, becoming an explorer myself; so I already knew things like what an atoll, or how does the crater of a volcano looks like, and how the Incas used to build their fortresses simply because I had been by then to those places already; and if it was boring for me that at least had memories to entertain myself with while the discourse went on, I think that for the rest of the youngsters there it would have been unbearable.

So it is really dumb to suffer so much when a solution is at hand: to use the school's labs to perform some really unconventional things like cleaning up fossils. Things such as taking little bits of stone around ancient, fossilised animals and plants can teach many things and help integrate a lot of knowledge about biology, history, geography, chemistry, physics and even manual skills with tools, microscopes and many other things. Such lab sessions would be far more productive than most lessons, and at the same time entertaining, educational and most importantly, inspirational, for palaeontology, aside from teaching us how life was in ancient times has an odd property: it makes children and youngsters dream, unlike most other sciences.

For example: talking endlessly about rock formations without showing even a picture or bits of rocks really has very little educational value, but cleaning the limestone covering little fossil bits and mentioning the Messel deposits found in Germany and the superbly preserved bodies of mammals there will teach students about chemistry, zoology, geography, geology and a lot of other things, awakening their interest for learning more on their own, which is the best that a teacher can aspire to achieve!

Indeed: very few get excited by looking at some mathematical equation or computer program; not many like to learn about the year in which Charlemagne was born, but fossils do something else, and even hard-to-teach kids usually get interested in them. As an attention grabber in the classroom, palaeontology is second to none and can turn audiences wanting to leave into audiences willing to stay, and that means an easier job for the teachers and better educational value for parents.

So, in order to make things easier for everyone, I think that teachers should try to put themselves more in the place of their students than seeing themselves as individuals trying to control by persuasion and extortion a mass of reckless, dumb and acne-ridden slobs; that would make life easier for everyone.

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