Waco Gem and Mineral Club, Waco, Tx

8.4 Record Keeping


8.4: Record Keeping

Much of the value of a mineral or fossil lies in its context: where did it originate, and what might that tell us about its formation and about its place within the overall geology of a region and its geologic history? While a gemstone may hold intrinsic value and economic worth even if its ultimate source is unknown, a fossil that lacks context lacks scientific value and becomes a mere curiosity or a purely commercial object. Even a gemstone is further enhanced if it has a story behind it—if it‘s the Moguk Ruby or a Virgin Valley Opal. Whether it‘s minerals, gemstones, or fossils, kids should be encouraged to look beyond economic value and the gee whiz factor of a neat object and to consider the scientific and educational value of what they collect.

Thus, kids should be taught to maintain a field journal of what they did and what they found during their trips in a notebook, three-ring binder, or on the computer. I do both. I‘ve bought a small, sturdy, bound diary in which I can jot notes, make sketches, and rough out maps while in the field. Once home, I transfer the info in a more organized fashion on the computer to print and maintain on three-hole punched sheets that can be inserted into a binder or manila folders for easy storage and easy reorganization as additional sheets accumulate. These records are used to pinpoint where rocks, minerals, or fossils were found so others could locate the spot—or so I can find it again years later as memory fades. They also augment sheets containing catalog information about each specimen (see Activity 5.2 on Cataloging and Labeling a Collection), additional information I find and photocopy about the geology or paleontology of a particular site, and sheets of slides or prints that I‘ve photographed of a locality.

Kids should be as specific as possible in record keeping. What are the directions to the site? What distinguishing permanent landmarks might mark the site? (For instance, a 30-foot red boulder is much more likely to be around 40 years from now as opposed to a small, rotting log.) In this day-and-age, they can provide GPS data. Was there a specific layer containing the fossil or mineral deposit? If so, how could others locate and identify that layer? What did they find, and was it abundant or scarce? Did they notice anything unique, such as certain minerals or fossils occurring together with other sorts of specimens, or on their own? The more detail, the better. Once in the field, the impulse is to collect, collect, and collect some more. But while collecting the rocks, kids should take the time to carefully collect information to accompany those rocks. These written records of their adventures can often be even more interesting than the rocks themselves!

Encourage kids to augment written entries with drawings, maps, and photos. I always make a camera an essential part of my collecting tools. In recording info about a locality, a picture really can be worth a thousand words. Plus, they come in useful in other ways, as in preparing a slide show, illustrating a bulletin board display, or providing visual relief and support in an article. (Most professional magazines require contributing authors to provide visually interesting photos if submitting an article for consideration.)

Note: Kids who write trip reports can use this activity to satisfy requirements toward earning the Communication badge simultaneously (Activity 7.2).