Thinking Outside the Rocks

In Winsor’s Upper School Paleobiology elective, taught by science faculty and Essential Winsor Science Chair Ken Schopf, students learn how fossils can be used to understand climate change and how life on earth has changed through time. This spring, when faced with the question of what to do when unable to offer the course’s culminating field trip to New York State due to Covid, Mr. Schopf formulated a hypothesis: If the experience of collecting and identifying fossils could be recreated at Winsor, then the 8 students in the class could still reap the benefits of the experiential, hands-on learning.

And so, in early April, an experiment began.

Transporting an outcrop of rock from Syracuse to Winsor, Mr. Schopf brought the field experience to Pilgrim Road, enlisting the help of longtime friend Dr. Linda Ivany, Professor and Associate Chair of Evolutionary Paleoecology and Paleoclimatology at Syracuse University. Dr. Ivany spent the day with the Paleobiology students mining fossils from the rock samples, identifying the organisms, and using the data to perform a paleoecological analysis of the 350 million year old communities. Students had the opportunity to ask the renowned scientist questions about her research and real-world experiences over an informal lunch, and learned about her work in Antarctica.

As is often the case in science, collaboration is essential. A special thanks to Bob Anderson in facilities for unloading the samples, and to Director of Facilities and Construction John Crompton for repurposing an alcove to permanently house the rock — an especially exciting prospect for Lower School students, who study fossils in Class III.
“He doesn’t teach science; he teaches kids, and he teaches them to be scientists. There simply is no higher goal or accomplishment than that.”
— Sarah Pelmas