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Department of pathology and anatomical sciences hosts Dinosaurs and Cavemen Science Expo with Columbia Public Schools

Elementary students explored fossil displays, natural history-related games and more.

Feb. 12, 2014

Columbia-area children flocked to Rock Bridge High School on Saturday afternoon.

The department of pathology and anatomical sciences and the Columbia Public Schools Planetarium hosted its Dinosaurs and Cavemen Science Expo at Rock Bridge High School. It was the second year the event has been held.

The expo provided students and families of Columbia Public Schools the chance to learn more about Earth’s history, including interactive stations and displays of current university research projects.

In addition, a movie, “Earth’s Wild Ride,” which explains the natural history of the Earth, played in the planetarium at Rock Bridge High School.

“We thought it'd be a really good idea to integrate the outside, kid-friendly aspects of our science with actual science that we're doing in our labs, so that people can actually get a feel for the research that underlies a lot of the activities we have set up,” said Casey Holliday, assistant professor in the department of pathology and anatomical sciences.

Set up like a children’s museum, elementary school students made their way around stations run by MU faculty and students. Stations ranged from fossil displays to natural history-related games.

New this year was the “Paleo-Passport,” a booklet students had stamped at each station.

Libby Cowgill, assistant professor in the department of anthropology, said they tried to make the event as fun as possible for kids.

“I don't think your average 6 year old is going to get a whole lot of concrete information that they're going to remember,” Cowgill said. “But they might remember this cool experience they had when they were a kid where they learned how to map stone tools, or they walked like a dinosaur.”

Aside from the natural sciences, Holliday also said he sees the possibility of encouraging technical sciences such as computer science through the annual expo.

This year, a station featured 3-D printers, focusing on how technology influences research in all fields.

The expo was funded through both departments’ research accounts. Holliday hopes to get government funding in the future to allow the expo to expand and possibly occur more often. He said he knows how valuable subjects like anthropology, paleontology and archeology can be to all age groups.

“Regardless of if people lose their passion for archaeology or paleo when they're kids, it always seems to interest adults, even as they grow up and have their own kids,” Holliday said. “It's the first early inspiration into science that often comes from dinosaurs and cavemen. I think the subject material is really for all ages.”

For Sarah Swartz, a senior anthropology major, the dream of studying archaeology began in the second grade after meeting a geologist. Today, she’s living her dream of studying fossils.

Swartz hopes to instill that same love in children, avoiding the major conflict between creationism and evolution theory.

“Human evolution can be a contentious subject, but I think people that bring their children to these events have already kind of crossed that hurdle of acceptance,” Swartz said. “They may have some questions. Often times I find myself addressing adults as much as I do the kids. If children are going to be scientifically literate, it's going to take their parents to get them there.”

The simplicity of anthropology and archaeology is what makes the natural sciences so accessible to the public, Cowgill said, because humanity has a natural desire to learn about subjects regarding the past.

“Maybe you can't get a grasp on genomics, but you can understand Lucy because you're looking at a human fossil,” Cowgill said. “This is the type of science that shows up on the Discovery Channel that is fascinating and immediate and accessible for the vast majority of the thinking public. It's a gateway science.”

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