Unleashed by their adult captors, a cluster of fourth-graders dug their hands into plastic sandboxes filled with ancient treasures.
As the Zarrow Elementary School kids sifted through sand dollars and fossils, most of them sought out the most exotic and dangerous treasure imaginable to the 10-and-under set: shark's teeth.
"I found one!" The kids cried out, one by one, as their little fingers close around one tough old shark's tooth after another.
Tulsa Geoscience Center volunteer and retired University of Tulsa geology professor, Norm Hyne, brightly admired each tooth as Zarrow's fourth graders clamored for attention and praise for their treasure-hunting.
"Oh, that's the nicest one I've seen," he smiled. "You can have your mom take you to Hobby Lobby and put that one on a necklace," Hyne told another.
On a recent weekday morning, dinosaurs came alive again through the enthusiasm of the center's volunteers -- mostly professional geologists. Susan Henley, the center's director and original program developer, is the only paid employee of the mini-science museum.
Digging up a shark's tooth was only one of the fun adventures the elementary schoolers embarked upon during their visit. Beforehand, Zarrow Elementary teachers picked out which zones or learning modules they thought would best suit the kids' ages.
From there, the volunteers jump in and bring those modules to life. In one room, they made their own earthquakes by jumping up and down; in another, they learn about phosphorescence in their day-glo bright shirts and teeth.
In another main, sunlit room, a long table nearly groans with fossil specimens, including another fourth-grader favorite: dinosaur poop. In polite society, fossilized dinosaur dung is referred to as "coprolites," but these kids learned the real poop from the Geoscience Center.
While their geologist volunteer showed off a number of impressive real fossils, the kids created their own little fossils out of plaster of Paris to take home.
Their plaster fossils weren't the only thing they got to take home. The Zarrow fourth-graders also made their own rubber bands in a room dedicated to plastics and petroleum. Aside from the petroleum used to make their fleece jackets and rubber tennis shoe bottoms, these kids already knew plenty about plastic and gas, two drivers of the American economy.
To keep the dream of a Geoscience Center alive, Henley and volunteers like Hyne count on donations from a city where wildcatters once became millionaires through the shrewd (or lucky) use of geology.
Kanbar Properties donated third-floor office space at 507 S. Main St., where the Geoscience Center has filled nine classrooms and three learning areas with fossils and minerals and rocks and posters and artifacts for kids of all ages.
Energy America Education Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes energy education, sponsored the center's reopening in downtown Tulsa. Between 2001 and 2010, the center offered fun learning tours at its location near 91st St. and Yale Ave.
The center is affiliated with the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board as one of their field trip assistance approved sites (provided the classroom teacher has completed a free OERB 8-hour teacher workshop).
OERB is also one of the key sponsors for the center, along with Apache Corp., Newfield Exploration and the Tulsa Geological Society.
In the summer, the center opens their doors to day camps and church groups and home school associations. High school kids and college students can also access internships and scholarship counseling through the center, while Boy and Girl Scouts can earn merit badges.
Admission to the center is free. To set up a tour for your class or group (or to offer financial support, sponsorship or donations), email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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