Discovering Fossils; A Classroom Dig

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SWBAT understand the difference between an artifact and a fossil

Big Idea

In this short lesson, students discover the difference between an artifact and a fossil.

If You are a Hunter of Fossils

10 minutes

As we transition into a NGSS standard approach fossils with a deeper perspective ( no pun intended!), setting the stage carefully for that kind of scientific thinking is imperative!

 To get going on the right track, I opened the lesson today with a lovely book that sets the tone for the NGSS standard and everything we will be studying!If You Are a Hunter of Fossils by Byrd Baylor helps us understand how we need to develop a different perspective of how we look at fossils. The poem gives us a glimpse at how a "hunter of fossils" thinks about them differently.

I read them the poem as they looked on at the beautiful illustrations. When I finished, I asked: How does this person see fossils? How can she/he see 15 million years ago?

One student raised her hand and suggested that the author sees more than just a fossil rock. When I asked her to explain, she made the analogy that it is like "turning a TV" on in your head and imagining how life was when that animal was alive.

I asked: "How do you see fossils?" to help lead them into the direction of mastering this standard.

Another student said that it is like a "pattern in a rock. It is a picture in a rock." We discussed how we see fossils in a rock and think about the animal, but don't give much thought to how old it is. We talked about how Earth was once a huge ocean teaming with life.

I asked: So can you imagine 50 million years ago? I can hardly imagine a million?

I explained that our new fossil unit would be an adventure and that we would become "fossil hunters" today, right in our classroom!


A Classroom Dig

35 minutes

Materials: 4 large plastic storage containers ( An under- the- bed storage box works well) filled with sand. Several different types fossils, metal keys, tools, marbles, & other small artifacts of your choice. Layer the container with sand having the oldest fossil, ( trilobite, ammonites, etc. on the bottom) and then layer artifacts toward the top layers of sand.  Interactive science notebook.( What would really be cool is to have a plot of land that things are buried in for students to uncover.) Spoons, old small 1" or less house painting brushes.

I opened the lesson with asking: What if you could be present at a dig site? What would you expect to find? As a scientist, how could you classify your findings?

I told them that in their groups, they would take turns uncovering items in the box. They needed to pretend that they were on a dig site and that the box is a section of the site.  I told them to place the on the table and then when they have found all of the items, they need to classify the objects. They will list or sketch each item that they find and create a chart that would communicate the classification. This helps them start to think about what is an artifact and what would be a fossil. Also, it clarifies that fossils are not fossilized artifacts! Fossils were always living things.

On the right side of the notebook: I asked them to glue the  Classroom Dig Instructions for Right Side of Notebook into their interactive Super Fantabulous Terrific Science Notebook.  I went over the instructions, emphasizing "Gently" so that dirt would not be flying around the room!

 On the left side of the notebook, I instructed: With your team develop three "milkshake" (nice and "thick")  questions that you are wondering about from the natural objects you found in your "dig" as you examine the objects.Be sure that these questions are questions you can research to find the answers. Then develop three "milkshake" questions that you are wondering about from the objects that you think are not natural items. Be sure that all of these questions are rich enough that it will help others understand what you have found.

Working in groups of 4, students took turns uncovering objects in the boxes. As they uncovered them, they noted what they found on the left side and drew any object they felt was important to sketch. They began their work and I roved the classroom and made myself available for questions and guidance.


Where did you find it?

10 minutes

As soon as all the objects were uncovered and students had classified their objects, I stopped them and asked them to share some observations.

I had written "artifact" and "fossil" on the whiteboard to help get their minds flowing in that direction because I wanted to address and assess their understanding of these two terms in this closing part.

I questioned: Where did you find the natural objects? Were they located at different depths of the site? What can you conclude about the deepest object?

What questions did you develop as you worked? Please share. I spent enough time for them to share important questions. I listed them on the white board for all to see. I kept moving onward with my questions and gave them time to answer them thoroughly as I supported their thinking through more questioning.

What items were created by humans? What items were created by natural processes? Are fossils created by man?

I taught: We call objects made by humans, artifacts. They can be buried with fossils. Artifacts are NOT fossils. Only living things can become fossilized.

I guided them into the next lesson by asking: What do you think would be the best way to record and collect our findings so that we can share our ideas as a whole team of scientists?

I closed with explaining that tomorrow their team would develop a way of communicating their findings to the whole class using technology.