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Playground palaeontologists with UC Professor

Marcus Butler

10 October 2017: It’s not the response you expect when asking a child what they want to be when they grow up, but students at Aranda Primary School may now be considering a career as a palaeontologist.

Students in Year 3 got a close-up look at what life as a palaeontologist entails when the University of Canberra’s resident fossil hunter, Michael Frese, visited their classroom.

Dr Frese, who is an assistant professor of science, led students on a fossil hunt and kicked off with a song and dance to stoke their interest in the field.

Dr Frese said ‘Fossil Rock Anthem’ was a hit.

“The music video was a good ice-breaker for the students. It explains scientific principles like continental drift, fossilisation and what a palaeontologist does,” Dr Frese said.

“The kids were interested in our discussion about the fossil record and deep time, which helps them understand the millions of years which we are looking back on when we examine fossils.”

The students were given the opportunity to hunt for fossils around the classroom and were able to keep parts of fossilised fish and plants which Dr Frese had unearthed in past digs.

“The students were looking at the fossils through magnifying glasses and a microscope and then we had them draw what they were seeing,” he said.

“The kids really loved the activity and their interest was evident. I had to swap one student’s fish fossil after an interesting microfossil which we hadn’t noticed before was spotted by the student.”

Class teacher Ellie Duckett said the children had a chance to study the tools of a palaeontologist, including small hammers and a jackhammer.

“Everyone in the school knew we were up to something when Dr Frese fired up the jackhammer, but the kids enjoyed seeing what it takes to explore some the world’s earliest creatures,” Ms Duckett said.”

“We had previously been working with the class on how animals are named, with their scientific name and their common name. Being able to study fossils of animals which have been extinct for millions of years, and to learn their names was a great extension of our prior learning.”

Dr Frese specialises in virology, particularly work on the calicivirus. He has also published a number of scientific articles on fossils and is using some of the tools of virology to better understand what he unearths.