Elementary Camps 1

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The Sternberg Paleontology Camp (SPC) is for students who seriously enjoy the great outdoors and paleontology! Students will get to investigate the paleontology and ecology of ancient Kansas that once included forests of ferns, and a sea of sharks, flightless birds, and immense marine reptiles! Along the way, we will also visit a Miocene fossil site called Minium Quarry, famous for its prolific mammal and plant fossils. During fieldwork, students will learn how to find and collect fossil material as paleontologists do, using the same tools as professional researchers. Students will learn to take field notes, use GPS units, map and compass skills, and proper methods of fossil collection to preserve as much information as possible.

Overarching themes of the SPC will include critical thinking skills, use of the scientific method, understanding the process of biological evolution through natural selection, applied geology, ecology, and generating an informed argument through the use of evidence. The SPC camp is designed to be an immersive learning experience for students interested in biology, geology, or paleontology. Our goal is to make sure any student planning to pursue a career in life or earth science will leave our camp with relevant, practical skills and knowledge in both scientific disciplines.

Project Summary

Students will work alongside instructional staff to excavate fossil vertebrate and plant material to be incorporated into the Sternberg Museum of Natural History’s research collection. Along the way, students will be guided in keeping accurate, professional field notes, sketches, and photographs.

Week 1: Field Excavation

The first week of camp will be spent in the field, with students learning how to camp, navigate, prospect for fossils, manage a field site, use excavation tools, keep field notes, and stay safe and healthy during field work. Often this includes dealing with changing weather, and learning to cope with the rigors of the work required to dig up a large fossil. Students are provided the tools and training to get the job done right, with emphasis on safety and efficiency.

Students begin with site assessment and starting documentation in their field notebooks. Special attention is paid to making sure students are developing good professional skills and habits they can carry with them long after their time at camp. Following site assessment and discussion, students are guided by staff through the process of properly checking a field site for exposed fossil material. Once a collectible fossil is found, students are guided through the excavation and extraction process, learning to dig out the fossil as professional paleontologists do. From brushes to picks to jackhammers and plaster jackets, students get hands-on experience with the full excavation process. Staff encourage students to take on leadership roles within the group, including peer-teaching by students who have quickly picked up particular skills.

Our excavation projects change from year to year, depending on what fossil material has weathered to the surface for us to collect.

Week 2: Skeletal Anatomy and Museum Collections

During the second week of the program, students will visit the comparative anatomy lab in the Fort Hays State Biology Department, and the modern skeletal collection at the Sternberg Museum to explore the evolution of the vertebrate skeleton. They will spend two full days learning major bones of the skull and body, as well as teeth types of mammals. Moving from fish to reptiles and amphibians to birds and mammals, students will learn to identify bones, and see how bones differ across vertebrate organisms.

Students will also visit the Sternberg Museum paleontology research collection during their time in Hays. Here, they will learn about the importance of research collections held in public trust, how these collections are built and maintained, and how they contribute to the progress of scientific understanding.

Week 2: Fossil Collection and Documentation

To close the second week of the program, students will continue to hone their fossil identification and excavation skills, and improve their data collecting habits. This includes refining documentation procedures essential for collecting quality field data, ensuring specimens will be usable for research.

While this may seem like a small detail, it is one of the most important components of the program. Attentive, detailed data collection is professionally mandatory in paleontology. We make sure students understand this clearly, with plenty of opportunities for practice and feedback.

Program Cost

Tuition is $1,420 per Sternberg Museum member, and $1,580 per non-member.

Q: What if my student is not accepted into the camp they applied for? Do you refund tuition?

A: 100% of paid tuition is refunded to any students not accepted to a camp they applied for. We encourage students not accepted to a program to apply again the following year. Many of our programs are competitive, with more applicants than space available. Unfortunately, this means that some years we won’t be able to admit 100% of applicants to any particular program.

Q: What is your cancellation and refund policy? 

A: Our refund policy for cancellations is dependent on which kind of camp you are signed up for (domestic or international), and when the cancellation is received.

Refund policies Domestic Programs:
For programs taking place within the United States, cancellations must be  submitted in writing, via email or typed letter. Each camp registration is held  to a 20-percent cancellation fee. If you cancel 30 to 10 days prior to the  start of a program, half of the total fee is refundable. If you cancel 9 or fewer  days prior to the start of the program, no amount of the fee is refundable.  Registration fees are non-transferable between applicants.

International Programs:
Cancellations and withdrawals must be submitted in writing, via email or  typed letter. Up to the registration deadline of May 1st, 2018, the program fee is fully refundable. After May 1st, the registration fee is only 50% refundable, as we will have already provided payments for airfares, accommodations, and guide services.

For answers to more possible questions, see our Frequently Asked Questions page!


Additional Information and Logistics

Drop off is 8:00am on the first day. Pick up is by 5:00pm on the last day.

Please see Frequently Asked Questions for information about attending the camps for out of state students.

You can follow along with our camp programs on Twitter and Instagram at @SternbergMuseum.

Contact Us

For questions about the Sternberg Science Camps programs, contact us at SternbergCamps@fhsu.edu or 785-639-5249.

Application Requirements

– All application materials must turned in no later than June 1st, 2019.
– Student applicants must be ages 14 to 18 as of June 2018.
– 2 page (5-7 paragraph) letter of interest from the student applicant.
– Letter of recommendation from the non-family member for the student applicant.
– Financial aid application paperwork (if applying for financial assistance).
– Complete online registration.
– Submit correctly filled out, signed waiver and release form.

Knowing some basics of camping is essential to field work. Field paleontology is often done in remote or semi-remote locations, making camping skills necessary to being able to do field work at all!

Training includes:
– Putting up tents
– Camp cooking
– Setting up and breaking down camp
– Leave No Trace strategies
– Efficiently loading and unloading field vehicles
– Environmental injury and illness mitigation
– Building and safely managing a campfire

Smartphones and GPS units can lose their signals, and have batteries that die. It is important for students learning to do field work to understand how to read and orient a map. Students are trained in use of aerial photos and compasses to navigate field areas and locate established field sites using cardinal directions and landmarks.

Gathering new data is essential to any field of science. In paleontology, this means collecting new, scientifically valuable fossil specimens in the field. Like any form of data collection, there are professional best practices that must be followed. Students are guided through these techniques and protocols, with lots of practice and feedback opportunities.


Digging up fossils is a strange mix of exact, careful work, and smashing rocks with big metal tools. Students learn how to balance these seemingly opposing tasks to extract large fossils while keeping them safe from damage. We also train students to properly document the excavation site, keeping a written and photographic record of the fossil(s) uncovered and work done to remove it.

Tool training includes:
– Brushes
– Picks
– Rock hammers
– Chisels
– Mattocks and polaskis
– Jackhammer and the generator that powers it
– Plaster + burlap for creating the protective jacket around excavated fossils

In paleontology, fossils themselves are only part of the data we have to collect. Field notes that document the location of the fossil, the kind of rock it is in, and other details of the field work performed are required for the fossil to be scientifically useful. Without this information, a fossil is little more than an interesting rock. Students learn the essentials of keeping professional-quality notes during all of our field work, with checks and feedback from staff along the way to help them improve.

Understanding how to read the layers of rock fossils are found in is essential for field paleontology. From the laws of Superposition and Original Horizontality to sediment grain sizes and rock types, students are introduced to the basics of sedimentology in the context of understanding the fossil record.

To understand the fossil organisms paleontologists study, and the changes life undergoes through time, a robust understanding of evolution is absolutely necessary. Students are presented with an initial lesson on the population basis for evolution, and how selection over time leads to new species. We continue lessons on evolutionary biology throughout the program, always relating back to the essential concepts of heritability, selection, and variation of genes and physical features.

Taking initiative, staying organized, and effectively communicating are all important skills for working with a team in the field. Over the course of the program, students are coached on developing these areas. With guided opportunities to lead portions of field work, students are encouraged to develop their voices, organize team efforts, and build confidence in their abilities.

From staying hydrated to use of heavy tools to dealing with bad weather, students are introduced to the hazards of field work and how to effectively, safely deal with them. Staff provide lessons on safety through discussion, making sure students have a clear understanding of problems that can arise and how to effectively avoid them, or mitigate their effects afterwards.

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Other 2019 high school camps!

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