BARTOW, Fla. – Children at schools and libraries in Polk and Hillsborough counties soon will be able to uncover real, prehistoric megalodon teeth, whale vertebrae, seashells, and mollusks – all between 5 million and 24 million years old.
The experience of getting to know these creatures that existed alongside mammoths, mastodons, and sabre tooth cats is thanks to a donation of fossils by Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research (FIPR) Institute, a research entity within Florida Polytechnic University.
FIPR has used the fossils as part of its educational outreach program for more than 15 years, but as its outreach focus shifts to older grade levels, the institute is donating eight carts of fossil collections to elementary schools and libraries in Polk and Hillsborough counties. Each cart contains real samples representative of three geochronologic epochs in Florida’s history. In all, the donation is valued at approximately $32,000.
“It’s incumbent upon Florida Poly to provide these materials to students in the area so they can get an early education and understanding of STEM,” said Dr. Jim Mennie, FIPR’s business director. “We are really happy at FIPR to be able to do that and have these materials go to good use.”
Doby Elementary School, Bartow High School, Polk County’s elementary gifted program, and the Polk County Library Cooperative each are slated to receive two fossil carts.
In addition to the fossils, the carts include rock and mineral identification kits, curriculum materials, and informational texts. The elementary recipients also will receive $1,000 mini STEM research grants.
“Our mission at FIPR is to educate Floridians on phosphate and industrial issues and this is a way of reaching a much younger audience and introducing them to this important Florida industry,” Mennie said. “They are going to see real fossils that if you were to dig out here you might find.”
Indira Sukhraj, Florida Poly’s associate director of educational outreach, coordinates the University’s educational outreach in the community and said the donation will make a big difference in the education of the community’s students.
“I want students in our community to have exposure to STEM education as soon as they can to give them more knowledge and more opportunities in the future,” she said.
She said efforts like these improve the pathway these students have between their school and the University.
In addition to the fossil carts, Sukhraj said FIPR is donating the custom “Plant to Reclaim” game kits to the gifted program at Polk County Schools. The game utilizes engineering Tinker Toys to further education.
“I am absolutely thrilled to be receiving these resources for our gifted students to use,” said Emily Mistretta, gifted coordinator at Polk County Schools. “These will go straight to some of our gifted programs in the district to gifted teachers who are emphasizing STEM with their curriculum for the gifted learners.”