DIG Field School Classroom Connections, Part 1

September 21, 2023 | Rachael Canaday

Each summer, the Discoveries in Geosciences (DIG) Program hosts a Field School program for K–12 teachers at active research sites in Arizona and Montana. During this four-day summer intensive, participants gain hands-on experience in paleontology and geology and learn new ways to bring Next Generation Science Standards to their classrooms. During the school year, DIG and Burke Education provide ongoing classroom support through curriculum resources and virtual programs.

Meet some of the teachers who participated in DIG Field School this summer and see how they are taking their key learnings back to the classroom.

Ron EnglandRon Englund
Middle school teacher, Keaau, Hawaii

Ron teaches Grade 8 science in Keaau, Hawaii at the Kamehameha Schools Hawaii, a private school exclusively for children of Native Hawaiian ancestry.

“At our school we are lifting up the Lahui (Hawaiian race) to be educated and successful in today's Western society, but also retain their culture, language, and Hawaiian values.”

As a self-described dinosaur fan, Ron was blown away by his experience in Hell Creek.

“I have collected fossils here and there in other states before this trip, but actually being in an area where the dinosaur fossils were so thick that you had to be careful to not step on them was just amazing… I never would have expected that dinosaur bones would be so common at the surface — it was mind-blowing!"


“My favorite memory of the [DIG Field School] school was seeing the large femur of the Triceratops just sticking out of the ground… surrounded by tons of bone fragments, just laying there for the past 66 million years. That was an experience I will not forget, and this experience will help me convey the excitement of fossil collecting to my students.”

Ron will use a culturally responsive approach to adapt the DIG Box curriculum to center a Hawaiian point of view for his students.

“I plan on using the Kumulipo or Hawaiian origin chant to base the unit from a Hawaiian cultural perspective. The Kumulipo states the coral polyp was the first animal created, and all creatures are descended from it. This is a great perspective to base our fossil unit from, especially as it shows that in some ways the early Polynesians recognized the evolution of organisms from simpler to more complex life forms over time.” 

Rachel hallockRachel Hallock
High school teacher, Ovid, New York

Rachel teaches Earth science and physics at South Seneca High School in Ovid, New York. Rachel is the only Earth science teacher in her district, which she admits can make it difficult to find other teachers to bounce lesson plans off. She applied to DIG with the hopes of connecting and collaborating with other Earth science teachers.

“I teach in a very small rural school in the Finger Lakes. Our district is pretty isolated and with the lakes it takes a while to get around. Our school is able to offer some pretty great programs for being such a small school.”

During the DIG Field School, Rachel was struck by Montana’s geology as compared to her home state of New York. 

“[My students and I] are used to Devonian shales and limestones with marine fossils. Seeing the sandstones and bony body fossils was a surreal experience and it really helped me understand the geospatial and temporal distribution of our continent’s geologic history.” 

One of Rachel’s favorite DIG memories was from group project day.

“Our project day site was at a channel deposit — an area that was once a stream some 66 million years ago. Finding fossils there and seeing that shape echoed across the canyons really helped me visualize that historic landscape.”

project day

Rachel is excited to use the DIG Boxes in her classroom and also plans to develop her own extension activities to connect the DIG Boxes with her own experience in the field.

“Few of my students have left the country and most have not left the state. We do not have active dig sites nearby we can visit, but the knowledge I bring back may be able to inspire my students to take a paleontology class in college, visit a state or national park known for its fossils, or even pursue a career in the field!”

MeganMegan Wong Regalado
Elementary school teacher, Seattle, Washington

Megan teaches Grade 2 at Bryant Elementary School in Seattle, Washington. She strives to share her infectious love of science and paleontology with her students, through science units on rocks and minerals, literacy-themed units on prehistoric life — and visits to the Burke Museum.

“We're fortunate to be close to the Burke and have access to the wonderful programming and field trips! I [want to] model for students — especially girls and kids of color — that science is a field they can be passionate about, and (if they choose) that they can pursue.”

DIG Field School allowed Megan to fully immerse herself in the hands-on work of scientists — an experience she relished.


“Being part of the DIG experience helped me realize the importance of exposing students to the variety of jobs in science, in order to help them see themselves in those roles. DIG pushes teachers to engage in the multidimensional work of being a geologist/paleontologist. By the third day of our field work, "project day," we were immersed in the roles of geologists and paleontologists. DIG helps teachers, and therefore students, experience the connection of what professional scientists do to what student-scientists do in the classroom.”

She is especially eager to use the DIG Boxes with her students and is already planning ways to incorporate the lessons into her curriculum this year.

“I'm excited to have my students participate in microfossil sorting. They'll be part of the collaborative efforts with UW & and Burke Museum to document the biodiversity of life 60+ million years ago. Students are astonished when they realize the objects in their hands are millions of years old and hold possibly undiscovered information about the history of our earth.”

DanielDaniel Sharoff
High school teacher, Queens, New York

Daniel teaches high school Earth science in Queens, New York at the High School for Arts and Business. In his classroom, Daniel incorporates hands-on activities and outdoor learning while utilizing the urban landscape of New York City. 

Participating in the Field School program gave Daniel new perspective on teaching Earth science.

“It was eye-opening for me to see some of the geological concepts that I teach being used on real excavation sites. One of my favorite memories of DIG Field School was… climbing to the top of one of the hills to search for an ash deposit among a coal layer [to determine] how old the dinosaur fossils were that were being excavated in the valley below."


"I always felt that many of the geological concepts I teach lacked context when taught on their own, but seeing them used in the field to help figure out chronology really helped me understand the valuable role geology plays. I anticipate going back to the classroom this upcoming school year and being able to make better connections for my students to help them understand why we are learning geological concepts and how they are actually applied.”

Daniel finds that fossils have consistently been a captivating topics for his students and he looks forward to incorporating the DIG Microfossil Box in his Earth’s History unit labs.

“[The DIG Box] will allow for my students to use real microfossils and have an experience of sorting and identifying that is not possible in any other capacity. Being able to order a box full of real fossils that are potentially millions of years old is truly unique and exciting, and I know this will be one of the highlights of the coming school year.”

heatherHeather Smith
Middle school teacher, Renton, Washington

Heather teaches Grade 8 science at McKnight Middle School in Renton, Washington. Heather applied to the DIG Program as a way to bring more hands-on opportunities to her students, many of whom are English Language Learners: 

“Authentic, hands-on learning activities are highly engaging for diverse groups of students, and can really help engage students who are acquiring English.”

On project day, Heather’s group made an exciting find: an articulated hadrosaur toe buried in the sand! 


“I haven't started school yet this year, but am excited to share stories about field work with my students. It is so valuable for science teachers to have a chance to do science in the real world, so they can better replicate that experience with students. I also really appreciated experiencing real-life examples of how science works as a process.”

Heather is looking forward to facilitating the microfossil sorting activity with her students later this year.

“I am eager to use the microfossil lessons, as they align so well with the NGSS standard to analyze fossils to make inferences about environments in which the organisms lived. I think it will really bring our study of the history of life and evolution alive for [students]. The opportunity for students to do authentic work that scientists will use is very unique, and I anticipate that it will be very rewarding.”

JustinJustin Ikehara
Middle school and high school teacher, Harrington, Washington

Justin teaches 7–12 Integrated, Physical, Earth, and Life Science at Harrington High School in Harrington, Washington. Justin notes that teaching at at a small, rural school — with only 42 students in grades 7–12 — creates some challenges as well as opportunities:

“Our rural farming community allows for small class sizes of seven to ten students per grade. There is a near 60% free and reduced lunch program. Many students do not get the same opportunities that larger school districts can afford, but we can also do things that they can’t, such as whole school field trips when we can afford them (in one bus).”

As the only science teacher in his district, Justin strives to expose his students to the many field sciences and to share his passion for natural history and geology. He appreciated the immersive experience Field School provided.

“DIG Field School gave me an incredible perspective and newfound respect for what field geologists, paleontologists, [and others] go through on a daily basis. This experience has helped shape my approach to geology as a discipline and will provide a framework for my earth science course units with regard to field work.”


Justin is looking forward to incorporating the DIG Boxes and other Burke education resources in his teaching curriculum this coming school year. He finds that now more than ever, hands-on learning experiences like the DIG program are crucial for engaging students.

“Our students are struggling from the effects of COVID lockdowns (just like other schools)... As we attend learning opportunities like the DIG Field School, my hope is to reignite the passion for teaching and learning in both myself, my colleagues, and my students.”

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