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The Rising Star Expedition: Skype In!

By Thomas Williamson

Students at Kaohsiung American School (KAS) in Taiwan were able to “travel” via Skype to join the Rising Star Expedition at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in South Africa last November.
The 30-minute teleconference, facilitated from the excavation site 40 kilometers north of Johannesburg by National Geographic’s Andrew Howley, was an exciting face-to-face conversation between 30 KAS high school students and Rising Star Expedition scientists Becca Peixotto and Alia Gurtov.
The Rising Star Expedition was undertaken after the recent discovery of early hominid bones in 30-meter deep caves, accessed via extremely tight passages. What is being unearthed and the influence it will have on man’s knowledge of prehistory has yet to be fully realized. The scientists’ willingness to share their insights with the high school students, however, is representative of an intriguing and unique aspect of their venture.
The Expedition, directed by The University of the Witwatersrand and National Geographic, is sharing its findings in real time with the world through online blog postings and videos. Standing in the morning wind, two members of the handpicked team of “underground astronauts” provided background information and enthusiastically answered questions posed by the KAS students.
They explained how, in addition to the significance of the discovery itself, the expedition was seeking to change the practice of secrecy that has traditionally surrounded significant finds in paleontology, archeology, anthropology, and the like.
Ms. Peixotto and Ms. Gurtov deftly fielded a wide range of questions about the current body of scientific knowledge, the site itself, and the process of excavating and handling the hominid remains.
It was exciting to hear their personal and professional perspectives on the find. Just as important, their obvious love of learning and dedication to expanding the body of knowledge in their field energized the high school students and gave them a real life example of the power of pursuing their passion.
This long-distance conversation did much more than just provide an update on the startling and important work of the Rising Star Expedition members. It also provided valuable context to the Kaohsiung American School students. It made the theoretical real, highlighted the importance of on-site teamwork, and demonstrated global collaboration.
KAS has a robust one-to-one program, but there is nothing like seeing the critical role laptops play in a field excavation to authenticate the value of the information technology that KAS students have access to every day.
Finally, the conversation with the Rising Star explorers confirmed the value and impact of study in applied fields of research and of the global opportunities that exist for students who set their sights on postsecondary education.

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