“I Dig Zambia” Week One Wrap-up: Fossil Digs, Grassroots Soccer, Comic Strips, and Mass Extinction
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I have been negligent at posting about how the “I Dig Zambia” virtual summer camp is going because we’ve all been so busy working on the camp all week. Building upon the successful “I Dig Tanzania” camp last year, “I Dig Zambia” is a two-week intensive summer camp that brings together 11 teens in New York with 8 teens in Chicago to learn about evolution, biology, paleontology, and social and cultural issues in Zambia. The camp takes place within the virtual world of Teen Second Life, with the New York teens logging in from Global Kids headquarters and the Chicago teens participating from the Field Museum of Chicago.
It’s been an outstanding and challenging first week, both for our kids and the educators. Here’s a recap of some of the cool activities we had our high schoolers engaged in.
First Steps in Second Life
Almost none of our teen participants knew anything about Second Life prior to the camp. So much of the first day of the camp involved our teens logging in for the first time, customizing their avatars, learning how to walk and fly, communicate, and build. Suffice to say, our teens learned Second Life much faster than most of our educators.
The Great Permian / Triassic Mass Extinction
After getting them up and flying in Second Life, we introduced our campers to their mission: to take on the role of scientists on an expedition to Zambia to search for fossils of Permian and Triassic era synapsids — early forms of reptiles and mammals that pre-date the dinosaurs. The campers learned that the larger goal of trip is to shed light on a very important era in Earth’s history: the Permian / Triassic Mass Extinction, when 70% of all life on land died off.
Connecting with Real Life Scientists and Young People in Zambia
Meanwhile, we are also connecting with two videographers in the town of Mfuwe, Zambia who have been meeting local youth, taking photos and videos, and reporting back to our teens on a regular basis.
Our campers have been really excited about this live connection to the researchers and young people in Zambia. This is only going to become deeper and richer as they move into the second week.
The Virtual Fossil Dig
One of the central activities at I Dig Zambia is the virtual fossil dig. We have re-created several of the key processes that the scientists follow as they look for, unearth, preserve, and document their finds in the field. While not as laborious, the virtual fossil dig does require attention to detail, planning, and cooperation with your dig team.
Our 19 teens were broken up into four different teams and given the task of looking for fossils in a particular plot of land. The teens have to figure out how to get the different tools they will need for their dig, examine the dig site for possible fossils, and then use their tools in the right order to find their fossils. Each team was assigned a different set of fossils that corresponds to actual synapsids that the scientists are looking for in Zambia.
After un-earthing their fossil, they learned about the importance of stabilizing it, coating it with a protective glue, and then jacketing it with bandages to protect it further for transport.
Zambia Social Issues
As a Global Kids program, we built in several lessons to help our campers learn about some of the key social, political and cultural issues in Zambia.
This week our teens learned about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa and what local Zambian organizations are doing to fight the pandemic. We introduced our teens to the initiative “Grassroots Soccer,” that uses soccer as a means of teaching young people about HIV/AIDS in a fun and engaging way. We gave our teens a much need break from their computers and sent them outside to learn some of the soccer drills that Grassroots Soccer uses in their program.
We also examined issues of migration in Zambia and around the world, since this is something that everyone can relate to. We gave groups of participants different migration stories from around the world, and had them create online comic strips to dramatize key parts of the stories.
Field Trip to the Museum
One of the great things about organizing a program on science and Africa in New York and Chicago is that there is a wealth of local educational institutions that you can draw from. On Thursday, we had our teens go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Field Museum of Chicago and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where they learned the ins and outs of how these museums collect, archive, prepare, and present their massive holdings to the public.
Running a technology-intensive camp with two groups of teens in different cities, a team of researchers driving around the bush in Zambia, and a team of videographers in a small town of Mfuwe presents a number of challenges that we have had to face. Second Life requires modern computers with high speed access to the internet that has been stretching our internet connections in Chicago and New York to the limit. Communications infrastructure and even electricity in large parts of Zambia is scarce or non-existent. And naturally teenagers get antsy sitting indoors in front of computers for several hours.
That said, the IDZ campers have been incredibly patient, resourceful, creative, and excited about the camp activities. From building their first virtual rock hammer to teaching each other soccer drills to blogging each day on the Global Kids OLP website, our teens have performed admirably. We are asking a lot of our participants — to give up every weekday afternoon for two weeks during the summer and sit in front of computers. But they have risen to the challenge and genuinely seem to be having a great time.
As we go into the second week, we’ll be asking even more of them. They will have to work more intensively together across cities, researching the scientific record of the fossils that they have found, creating convincing virtual museum exhibits from their findings, and presenting to each other. I’m excited to see our virtual paleontologists take it to the next level.