The Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology acts as a unique resource for students of The Webb Schools as they have the opportunity to learn all about paleontology. Reciprocally, the museum benefits from a large workforce of enthusiastic and able student collectors and curators. Students at Webb learn about paleontology in three settings: they participate in the collection of fossils on peccary trips, they enroll in classes taught by museum staff, and they participate in the museum afterschool program (preparing and curating specimens).
Museum Field Excursions
Since the late 1930s, fossil collecting trips for Webb students have been known as "peccary trips." During the academic year, most peccary trips go to Barstow. Students learn collection techniques such as prospecting (walking and lo
oking for specimens lying exposed on the ground), quarrying (removing a specimen from rock using tools) and screen-washing (using a screen to sift through rock to recover small fossils).
Summer Peccary Research Trip
Every summer the museum offers the Summer Peccary Research Trip, co-led by Museum Director Don Lofgren and Curator Andy Farke, which is scheduled for late July- early August. This trip is designed for students who wish to be part of a field research crew, but at the same time have a fun and adventurous experience (side trips to national parks/monuments are scheduled as well). Over the next few years, the museum will concentrate its summer efforts on collecting in the Kaiparowits Formation of southern Utah and the Renova Formation of Montana.
Introduction to Paleontology
As part of the first year science curriculum, students learn the basics of the geological time scale, how fossils relate to biological evolution, and what paleontology can tell us about our changing planet. This hands-on curriculum includes frequent use of the museum's many exhibits.
Honors Advanced Study in Paleontology
This course covers virtually every aspect of a natural history museum, centered around the idea of students as museum scientists. To this end, students in the course acquire the scientific background necessary to work with fossils in a museum and also learn how museums obtain fossils, techniques employed in collecting and problems associated with procurement. Next, they study curation of fossils--how they are organized, stored, and archived. Students are then introduced to scientific literature and are taught how to analyze data and arguments presented in research papers. More than just gaining knowledge of how a bone goes from the ground to a display case, students glean an appreciation for the value of natural history museums and the 99 percent of fossils that never go on display.
Honors Museum Research
In this one semester course, students learn how to search and analyze the primary scientific literature, basic data analysis, and the ethics of research. Additionally, students assist in several paleontological research projects based in the museum's collections.
Honors Advanced Museum Research
This is an advanced course in paleontological research where students work under the supervision of the museum director or curator of paleontology. Student research projects usually include reviewing paleontological literature relevant to the project, analyzing and interpreting scientific data, outlining results in written form, attending a national paleontology conference where the project is presented to the scientific community, and preparing a manuscript presenting the results of the project. Learn more about our research program here.
Museum After School Program
Webb students may choose to participate in an after school program at the Alf Museum where they work in the Preparation Lab, preparing fossils found on peccary trips. Here, one might find them extracting a Miocene horse tooth from hard sandstone using an air scribe or preparing a giant turtle shell for display. Students learn a variety of professional techniques for cleaning and repairing specimens. Other activities, such as fossil identification, are addressed as well.
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