Developing a Paleontology Field Program for Middle-School Students
The University of Montana’s Paleo Exploration Project (PEP) was a professional development program for K-12 Montana teachers, which also provided authentic, field-based, residential summer research experiences for over 80 Montana middle school students. The program’s scientific focus was the ancient environments and fossils of eastern Montana, which to leveraged student’s innate interest in dinosaurs to build a deeper understanding of “doing science” and encouraged future pursuit of STEM coursework and careers. Two week-long summer institutes were held in 2007 and in 2008, with the second year’s program being modified based on lessons learned during the first year. In this article, we present qualitative results from students’ pre- and post-program surveys and exit interviews, which suggest that the program helped them gain insights into what science is, what scientists do, and how technology is employed in science. Students showed a significant increase in enthusiasm for their upcoming science classes, increased self-efficacy in science and technology, and increased interest in STEM careers. Challenges, insights, and recommendations for implementing residential, field-based science programs for middle-school aged students are presented.