Exploring the Jurassic Coast: Westfield teacher uses $12,000 grant to search for fossils in Europe

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With a $12,000 Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program Lilly Endowment grant, Monon Trail Elementary behavior resource teacher Chloe Diedam will use the dollars to travel along the Jurassic Coast in Europe and search for fossils.

The Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program allows teachers to renew their commitment to teaching by allowing them to pursue their dreams and passions. One of Diedam’s passions prehistoric topics and fossils.

The Jurassic Coast is 95 miles of coastline on the English Channel along the southern border of England. Diedam will visit eight stops along the coast: Lyme Regis; Charmouth; Dorchester; Barton on the Sea, Hampshire; Bouldnor, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight; Bracklesham Way, West Sussex; London and Warden Point, Isle of Sheppey. She will work with guides on learning how to find, identify, collect and document various fossils along the coastline.

Diedam said different fossils, such as terrestrial or marine varieties, are found at different locations along the Jurassic Coast.

“I’m traveling from the southwest and moving my way east, and then I go up to London,” she said. “While I’m there, I’m doing fossil collection, but I’m also going to famous landmarks and museums to learn about the prehistoric life that lived in that area, so a lot of history is involved. I’m really interested in not just finding (fossils) but learning about them. I think everything has a story, so if I’m finding an ammonite, which are really common fossils there, someone will say, ‘What is an ammonite?’ and I’ll be able to (inform) them how old they are, what they ate and why they are found specifically in that area.”

Diedam has been interested in paleontology since she was very young.

“I wrote in my grant (application) that even as a kid, my parents would buy these little clay blocks. You would get a chisel toy and there would be a plastic dinosaur skeleton inside, and I thought that was so cool,” she said. “I’ve always liked dinosaurs, going to museums and things like that. It’s just carried into my adult life, and I look around the Midwest and we don’t have a lot of fossils. We are mostly marine, a lot of shells and trilobites, little critters that live in the water.”

Diedam travels to Florida to search for fossils. She once found megalodon tooth. A megalodon is an extinct species of shark which could reach the size of a school bus.

“I’ve found a 3-inch megalodon tooth, which equates to a 30-foot megalodon, which is a juvenile,” Diedam said.

Diedam went through a process to obtain the proper permits, so if she finds any fossils along the Jurassic Coast, she’s allowed to keep them and bring them back to Indiana.

“I just had that itch. Here’s an opportunity for me to write a grant to do something I really enjoy,” she said. “I looked all around the world. Europe tends to be really rich in fossils, and (so is) the west coast of the U.S. and Africa. I narrowed it down to a couple different European countries, and finally down to the Jurassic Coast because it is a historic landmark.”

Bringing her experience home

In addition to bringing home fossils she finds while exploring the Jurassic Coast this summer, Monon Trail Elementary behavior resource teacher Chloe Diedam also will return with a wealth of new knowledge.

At the end of July, she will teach a summer camp about fossils.

“I know tons of kids who love dinosaurs and history, so to bring back my fossils and what I have learned to teach kids to identify fossils and talk about different types of dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures and where to go locally to find fossils, it will inspire them to go abroad and follow their dreams,” she said.

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