A school workshop about paleontology and the evolution of life on Earth


Few weeks ago, I celebrated the first anniversary of my home laboratory! Actually, when everything shut down the first time in March 2020, I was just back from a workshop I gave in the North. Luckily, for this workshop, I had to carry around a stereoscope (a kind of microscope; not a classic travel accessory!). This stereoscope actually happens to be the most useful instrument of my doctoral research as I am a micropaleontologist. The University closed, they allowed me to keep it (thanks!) and I could then put together a little laboratory in my 3 ½ apartment, but a very rustic one; a big table, a bedside lamp, and in the center of all of it, my stereoscope to look at all my samples containing hundred of microfossils ready to be ogled.

Credits: Jonathan Riverin

Recently, my floor neighbour passed by to discuss a question about the building. The stereoscope flabbergasted him and in the instant, he asked me if I could share my work experiences and everyday tasks to his 6-grade classroom as part of his career-day project – he is a teacher. I accepted with great pleasure and I decided to prepare a workshop about paleontology and the evolution of life on Earth to ultimately introduce the concept of micropaleontology. What I did not know at that point is that I thought I would be the knowledge holder on that day, but in the end, I think I am the one who learned the most.

That day was April 1st 2020, and it is not an April’s fool joke. However, Mother Nature prepared a good one and served us a snowstorm… Anyway! The students arrived one after the other in the morning and we invited them to observe microfossils through the stereoscope. Then, my neighbour-teacher asked them to write something about these small organisms. The students read their texts, some of them simply described what they saw; roll up shrimps, white bubbles… some mentioned summer holidays at the beach collecting shells and one girl, Catherine, somehow knew that these creatures were holding many little secrets; without realizing how much she was exactly on point (it is our job as micropaleontologists to reveal them)!

Credits: Jonathan Riverin

The workshop wore on with the observation of a variety of fossils from the UQAM (Universtiry of Québec in Montréal) collection. From the first trace of life, the stromatolites, to the arrowheads from the Paleolithic, we travelled together across the evolution of our planet (see photograph). I wrapped-up the workshop by presenting more precisely about my “job” (I put the word in quotation marks, because as a PhD student, I have never considered having one!) and a video on field trips; mainly images of the North and research vessel expeditions. All day, I was very touched by their curiosity, their fossil stories (and they actually had plenty!) and finally their young and refreshing ways of seeing microfossils, which reminded me how this hidden microscopic life is indeed amazing!

I want to thank all the students in the classroom for their participation, my neighbour and his way of teaching which promote diversity and creativity, the Département des sciences de la Terre de l’UQAM for the material and ArcTrain.

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