SharkFinder™

The SharkFinder™ program is a citizen science collaborative aimed at engaging students and other citizens in real research endeavors. SharkFinder™, true to its name, is aimed at finding fossil elasmobranch (shark, skates and ray) remains from the Atlantic coastal plain of the United States. To date, elasmobranches from many areas of this region have been poorly characterized despite the fact that shark fossils have been a favorite of collectors and paleontologists for more than a century. These fossil remains are of great importance to the sciences of paleontology, evolutionary biology, and paleo-climatology.

The JASON SharkFinder™ School Adventure brings the excitement of digging for real, scientifically important fossils to the classroom environment, bringing together direct interactions with the Host Researchers and hands-on work to help their efforts and potentially be recognized in new discoveries. The Classroom Adventure Kits, which are used as part of the School Adventure, contain fossil-bearing marine sediments, also known as "matrix." Exploring this matrix increases knowledge about the life and times of the sharks that lived in the area where the matrix was collected. JASON Learning Host Researchers Jason Osborne and Dr. Aaron Alford work with a team of experts in paleontology, prehistoric elasmobranches, and geology to identify and sample the layers of earth where they gather the matrix. When students begin exploring the fossils in the Classroom Adventure Kits, they are the first people to see the fossils since they were deposited tens of millions of years ago! A wide range of marine fossils are frequently found in these kits, including marine mammals, bony fishes, and birds.

Aaron Alford

Credit: 

Jason Osborne

Credit: 

Jeff Jordan

Paleo Quest explorers Aaron Alford and Jason Osborne uncover Earth’s mysterious past by searching underwater in murky swamps along the Atlantic coastal plain of the United States.

SharkFinder™ is a real scientific endeavor, so there are real unknowns involved! Students and teachers are required to work with the matrix (and the fossils it contains) for several weeks. In doing so, they are asked to apply several different techniques to assess the best way to break down the fossil-bearing matrix. As they do so, they will begin to release the fossils from the matrix. Once the matrix has been completely removed, the resulting gravel, sand and fossil material will need to be identified and separated. This gradual process provides many opportunities for group and individual participation from categorization and identification to photography.

Osborne and Alford will provide the capstone experience for each School Adventure. They will travel in person to the participating school for a day to answer questions and give the scientific context for the work completed by the students. They will also be available throughout the process for a limited number of Skype or Google Hangout sessions to provide examples of the sample collection process, answer questions, etc.

The fossils resulting from the Classroom Adventure Kits will be sent to Dr. Bretton Kent, elasmobrach expert at the University of Maryland who will work with his team to publish on the scientifically significant fossils. Students or other citizen scientists who find significant fossils will be acknowledged by name in the resulting publications.

After publication, the fossils will be donated to the Calvert Marine Museum. Curator Dr. Stephen Godfrey and Collections Manager John Nance have agreed to curate the fossils in their permanent collection. This collection will be one-of-a-kind and will continue to provide important scientific data to paleontologists for years to come. All contributing classrooms will receive a deed of gift from the Calvert Marine Museum to acknowledge their contribution to science.

How can we participate in the SharkFinder project?

To learn more about how you and your students or after-school / out-of-school group can participate in the SharkFinder™ project click here to contact JASON Learning.

Testimonials:

“This project was one of the best I have ever participated in. I saw students who were normally indifferent about learning become excited. When they found a fossil, I saw their body language change. They were very proud of their discoveries. It is difficult to keep student interest in anything for a 90-minute class, but this project held their attention and they were actively engaged the entire time. Amazingly, this translated into more active participation in class even after we [finished] looking through the samples. Students who did not normally take part in classroom discussions were now contributing. Their success in this project gave them confidence.” – Cathy Lane, oceanography instructor at C.D. Hylton High School

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