MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Since Monday marks the start of the new academic year here in Washington, this week, we're heading back to school with stories about learning of all kinds. Later in the show, we'll meet one of the master educators working to help teachers in the district polish up their acts. We'll also hear from a statistician and teacher who's bringing numbers to life and touring them around town.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
But we're going to kick off this part of the show with a bit of a history lesson and as environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour tells us, this particular lesson takes us way back in time.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
This industrial park in Hyattsville, Md. has a strip club, a construction site...
MR. PETER KRANZ
There's a bakery right down there.
It's an unlikely spot for a classroom, but it is where Dr. Peter Kranz is leading a group of children and their parents on a journey through time.
They need bug spray, sun-block, hats.
Kranz is a paleontologist and this is just another day at Dinosaur Camp. He wears a worn safari hat and his bright blue eyes shine from behind a scruffy mop of white hair and a curly white beard.
Several of the land owners around here have illegally blocked access to the site.
It's no problem, the crew marches right through a gate and down a muddy construction road. A 110 million years before the bakery and the trucks were here, this was a different place.
What we would've seen is a forest made of Cyprus trees. It would've been a swampy area with things like fish, crocodiles, turtles, frogs and then, of course, dinosaurs of various sorts, including Raptors, big things kind of like T-Rex, big Sauropods, kind of like Brontosaurus.
And Kranz says the D.C. region is well situated to catch glimpses of that former world.
Washington D.C. and the surrounding area is the best place in the whole United States to look for dinosaur fossils because within 25 miles of downtown Washington D.C., we have represented nearly every time period in the dinosaur time.
The group reaches a muddy hillside and the children and parents alike are unleashed.
MS. STACIA PRUDEN
Mommy, look, I just pulled this out.
Oh, my gosh, it's like a giant -- just, like, throw it down the hill.
Six-year-old Stacia Pruden (sp?) is digging through the hillside as her mother Elisa watches. She's pulled out what looks like a piece of charcoal of some kind, but it's not what she's after. Stacia is on a mission.
I'm looking for a buried tooth, a dinosaur.
She loves dinosaurs. We thought maybe, you know, it would be something that she grew out of, but she's been into them since she was, like, three. It's been, like, dinosaur birthday parties, the whole nine yards. They're all over her room.
No dinosaurs this morning.
If dinosaur bones were as common as grass, we'd go to the museum to see grass and we'd have dinosaur bones on our front lawn.
But there are thousands of fossils here lying in plain view, including the log that Stacia threw out. It's, in fact, lignite, a type of coal and a 110 million years ago, it was a tree branch. In fact, littering the ground are what, on first glance, appear to be wood chips and mulch, but which are actually petrified wood. Some still have parts that are sponge and some of the bark is still flexible, a 110 million years later.
Being a fossil says nothing about its condition, other than it's ancient and dead. Well, that's very nice.
One of the children hands Kranz a flaky piece of dry mud, the fossilized pine needles inside represent an age dominated by conifers, most flower plants hadn't even evolved yet.
That's a really nice piece. You can see all the leaves in it. That's a really good piece.
Parent, Suzanne Duffy, explains why she brought her son along for the second year in a row.
MS. SUZANNE DUFFY
I think it's just a great education for the kids because they get to be out in the field and learn hands-on what they're learning in a book or museum. They're getting to live it and experience it.
But it's clear, the parents are having fun, too. At a beach in Fort Washington, everyone is on their hands and knees.
I think I found one.
This is a piece of a crocodile tooth, probably a sand shark, broken piece of a stingray tooth, piece of coral of...
Kranz knows many of these kids, even the ones who are obsessed with dinosaurs, won't end up as paleontologists. But he does want them to learn and to have fun.
I want them to realize that science is not magic, that it's hard work and thinking. And I hope that it will interest them to have a lifelong love affair with science, not to be too sappy about it.
One child finds a shark tooth the size of a silver dollar.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER 1
I think it's a fish tooth.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER 2
That is so cool. That's what I want to find, something...
A 110 million years ago, this stone was a shark tooth. Today, it's a twinkle in the eye of a six-year-old. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.
For photos of what Dino Campers have unearthed and to learn where you can find some fossils of your own, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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