My Experience as a Young Paleontologist!
Ayesha Khan
Grade 7



The happiness would flood over and the hugs from my classmates would be never ending. Another two months of summer vacation and relaxation. However the summer vacation would pass quickly, either on a trip to India or staying on the couch with the TV on most of the day. It would be the first day of school and even though the happiness of being reunited with my classmates, meeting new people and starting a whole new school year would be there, I would still have that perturbed feeling that I did not do anything constructive over the summer. This time I wanted to do something different for my 2014 summer vacation. I was overwhelmed when I found out about the two week Virtual Arts Cretaceous Sea camp program at the American Museum of Natural History! Going to the camp at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) was one of the best experiences that I ever had. At the camp, lessons would be taught using mac books, iPhones, real-life fossil displays that one could feel and touch, and many visits to the halls of the museum. However getting selected in to the program was hard work. To enter in the selection process, I had to write two essays based on assigned essay prompts. Out of the many students who had participated in the selection process only twenty were accepted and I was one of them! Once all the steps were done, I had to wait for the camp to begin!
Transportation was not hard since both my parents work in Manhattan and they take the train every day to get to work. Half the way through on the 7 train, I would change trains waving goodbye to my parents and then arrive at the museum myself. At the camp I was greeted by 4 teachers every day. There were two main teachers and one taught us about ancient animals while the others taught us how to use the electronics. The other two teachers were assistants who often helped us. The Virtual Arts camp was mainly teaching students about the marine animals that lived in the Cretaceous Period and how to interpret and analyze the features of the animals by comparing it to some of its present-day living species. Then we used these skills to create displays and give them behaviors using the museum provided mac books.
Not only did we get to see fossils collected by others, but we also got to collect fossils ourselves. We went on a field trip on the first Friday of the camp to a stream in New Jersey. Many of us were wearing knee high rain boots including myself while looking for fossils in the small and shallow stream. We often moved from place to place doing stream walking. We were all carrying multiple strainers and shovels, shoving the strainers in the river and using the shovels to dig throughout the muddy shores. The freezing waters of the stream did hold many ancient treasures. All of the campers were able to find fossils. One of my fellow campers even found half the shell of a turtle that existed 3 million years ago! We had two museum scientists along with us on the trip who helped us in identifying our findings. I had found two tooth of a fish that may have been eaten and digested by an alligator, two oyster shells, three different shark species teeth and two skeletons of a squid like organism. The camp trip was awesome and a unique trip compared to any other trip that I had gone on before. However, many of us returned with all our clothes wet and covered in mud! My last day of camp was also the presentation day. In front of a crowd of parents, my fellow campers and a few museum scientists, we had to do a presentation on species of an extinct marine animal that we were interested in. My partner and I used many programs to create our presentation. We used a program called Sculptris to create a virtual display of our species, used a museum made program to give our species specific behaviors and habits, used the iPhones to learn about our species from the exhibits and used multiple internet resources. Still, we had even more help when we were allowed to analyze the fossils since the museum had allowed us to carefully come in contact with the brittle fossils. Though it took many hours of practice it was a very exciting experience! The camp was full of a lot of information and gave me a chance to look into another subject in a fun and exciting way. After the camp, I became a lot more interested and curious about marine animals of ancient times. I even learned my way around the museum pretty well! Most of all, the camp taught me how it feels to be a paleontologist!

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