Sunday, April 21, 2013

Whoop whoop! And, yeah- FOSSILS

First, for the whoop whoop!  I successfully ( I think, anyway) figured out how to design my own blog background, and header (ok, so it's a tad short), and button, and profile pic.  And I also managed to make my own digital cupcake clipart, my own background papers, and I edited my old piece of Moose to get my little lovely there in the oval.  I am feeling SMUG I tell you!  And excited, because now I think I can do allllll sorts of things.  Critique or comments appreciated.

Now, fossils.

If you are in Virginia, then you know that we are one of two states NOT participating in common core standards.  I will mostly avoid referencing that this is similar to how we seceded from the union in 1865- but whatever.  It's not like I'm going to move any time soon to teach in another state that has it's act together with cooperating...  Anyway.  This year they changed up some of our science SoL's (yep, the irony is taxing) to include the teaching of fossils.

It reads like this:

          d)   fossils provide information about living systems that were on Earth years ago.

Rivetingly specific, isn't it?

And yet I've got to do something with that.  That second graders will understand.  And be willing to participate in. 

I went to a "training" where it was suggested that we have them sketch out 30 line drawings of fossils into a grid and then analyze the placement of said fossils to decide what the land was like millions of years ago.  There were teachers there that refused to draw the thirty sketches in the thirty minutes allotted to finish.  And that got me to thinking/realizing that my 23 students were pretty much going to do the same thing.

Barf.  As a teacher, I have to say, I get very disturbed/angry/frothing when people who don't deal with children decide what I have to do but don't give me anything useful to do it with. End froth.  Thank the Lord he gave me a brain to get creative and some colleagues with the same initiative.

First thing I did was to make a little power point presentation to set the scene up for my kids.
I used border frames from both Graphics From the Bond and Ashley Hughes. Just click the pics to link up to the TpT download. The rest of the pictures are just from on-line and Microsoft office.  If you want a copy of it, just send me an email- I'll happily share it.  There are links to a How fossils form video, a virtual fossil exploration site, and (my favorite) a you tube video of They Might be Giants singing "Paleontologist".  I also included some "this is what this has to do with Virginia" sorts of pages- including our state fossil, and a map explaining what sorts of fossils can be found in our state by region.


 Ok, so the fun stuff- I merged two ecosystem standards- the adaptation of camouflage and also the fossils.  I used plastic Easter eggs in the colors of greens, yellows, pink and blue.  One for each kid in the class and just scattered them in a small area on the playground grass. They could easily see where they were, it wasn't really about hunting.  But they had to run as fast as they could, grab the first one they saw, and run back.  I recorded their color find and the number I had hid inside the egg.  (The number matched them up with a random partner.  When we displayed the eggs in the order that they retrieved them, they could see that the pinks and blues were the first grabbed, and then the oranges, greens, and yellows.  So we were able to talk about eggs that blend in to the surroundings are much more likely to survive than unusually colored ones.

With their new partner, they were given a picture of a fossil and asked to make a representation of it out of air dried clay.  We had a snafu with a cement idea, and I ended up taking them home to enclose in magic mud to dry over the weekend. The magic mud is made from used coffee grounds- and considering the amount I needed for thirty fossil trays, and the fact that I don't really drink much coffee, I enlisted the aid f a nearby Starbucks.  They happily gave me a gigantic bag of the used grounds they were planning to put in the dumpster.  I repeated the recipe (free on TpT, just click the word magic mud) a good fifteen times to cover up 30 fossils.  My colleague had bought the little tins at the dollar store.  They were the perfect size.  The recipe was very easy to make, and I have to say, as a salt dough recipe, mixed quickly, easily, and I really liked the texture.  Next year we'll go with this option instead of the cement idea and the kids can mix their own and encase their fossil on their own.  A great way to incorporate measurement math and how-to writing if I don't say so myself.

So here's the shot of all of the air dry clay fossils drying on my back porch.  I kept the little fossil picture with the creation since not all of them were hugely identifiable (they're eight year olds, remember).  We also labeled the bottom of the pie tins with the picture so we could identify it later as well.

I made a bottom layer of the mud to put the fossil on, before I put on the top layer- trying not to break the fossil inside since they are pretty fragile.  I did learn that the moisture of the magic mud reactivates the air hardening clay- so next year I will need to spray the fossils with clear spray paint or a fixative of some sort before I put them in the mud to prevent that from happening.  Live and learn, kittens.

I put the thirty trays back out on the porch to dry.  They made me think of brownies, for some reason, which did not help with the emotional eating urges. They ended up fitting nicely inside a diaper box to take back to school.

Excavation time.  We set the trays up in the grid, with yarn and post-its for the number.  We watched a brief video on dino digs so the kids can see how they actually do section off the dig site.

We used both ends of a paint brush and toothpicks to dig out our fossils.

We kept our fossil catalog nearby to help us try to identify the fossil we found.

This group was the first to discover that they had found dinosaur eggs.

And this group accidentally broke up their fossil during the dig, and then tried to put it back together to identify it.

All of the trays are back in their places. 

At the end, we set up a matrix on the promethean board to list our discoveries and decide on the land features of the area.  We found that our site had a section of land, beach, and ocean based on the location of the found fossils.  I have a feeling of success with this project.  I had fun, the kids had fun, and they pretty much get the idea of fossils now.  With the slight exception that a couple of them now think all bones are fossils- but they are EIGHT! I'll get that ironed out soon enough.


  1. HELLO! I'd love a copy! Our science standards are changing too! We are adopting the new Next Generation Standards!

  2. this is fantastic!! i LOVE science. so much! i would love a copy! Unfortunately, my units are already mapped out, but I run the science program at our school, and I think this would be fantastic!! I teach second, but after school is for k-2 so I may have to adapt a bit, but they would love this!!

    If you want to send some tips as to how to make html's send them along too!!!

    Thanks for sharing!!
    Diary of a First Year Teacher