Inside a 60-foot trailer decorated to resemble a typical Southern California canyon, Liz Lamarre, 12, plunged her plastic trowel into a small plot of earth and began looking for historic artifacts.
After rooting around unsuccessfully for a few moments, she cried out, "Oh, I did find something!" and pulled out an abalone shell.
Liz was one of about 30 students at Frank N. Eastwood Elementary School who became amateur archeologists on Friday as part of a program run by the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum.
Inside the "Earth Mobile," which was decorated with artificial rocky terrain, mounted coyotes, rabbits and other native fauna, students used magnifying glasses, tape measures and scales to study and catalogue their finds.
"We found an arrowhead and a gopher's jaw," said Ryan Fussell, 12. "It was fun because we were experimenting and learning about new stuff we've never seen before."
Since Monday, about 600 students have gone through the program, which Principal Ed Kissee praised as an excellent teaching tool.
"My theory is that if children get their hands dirty, they learn a little more," he said.
Linda Abraham, a museum educator who visits schools with the trailer, said the program is an ideal way to reach students and motivate them to learn.
"It's all hands-on, so it's very exciting for them. When they leave, they all want to be archeologists or scientists," she said.
She said that the trailer also provides a great way for schools to offer fun, educational activities for their students without having to leave the campus.
"Schools have had so much money cut from their budgets they really can't afford field trips to the museum, so we bring the museum to them," she said.
"I think it's a good way to get people interested" in a subject some people consider dull, said Colin Popadiuk, 11.
Colin said he's thinking about archeology as a career because history is interesting. He added, "It would really be nice to make an amazing discovery that people didn't know before about the past."
Kelley King, 11, who had just dug up an animal vertebra, said, "I think this is exciting."
Archeology is more fun than she expected, she said. "When you read about it in a book, it seems so boring, (but this) whole thing is really cool," she said.