Mystery Bones

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Students will use the information they have learned in the last three lessons and apply it to a set of unknown bones

Big Idea

Students will use information and skills learned to apply it to a real-world problem.

Review and Preview

3 minutes

I call students to the gathering area. I tell them that today we are going to use the information we have learned about skeletal structures to find out what kind of animal skeleton we have in our mystery animal. I tell students that we are not dissecting an owl pellet, but will be working with a set of scientific illustrations of a skeleton.

I tell students that they will be using the information they have in their interactive science notebooks to hypothesize and support their claim as to what kind of animal they have, to assemble the skeleton, and to predict the name of the animal.

Guided Investigation

30 minutes

I send students back to their table groups. I have out an observation sheet and bones sheet (Bones images can be downloaded at: to each student. I ask groups to study their bones and start hypothesizing how they might put them together.

I pass out the scissors only once I have heard good discussion occurring in each group. If students have the scissors at the beginning they try to cut first and think later. Each member cuts a few bones. Once the bones are cut out, each group starts to try to arrange them in different ways.  Once the group has reached consensus, they glue their skeleton onto a large piece of paper. I always make sure the paper is larger than the assembled skeleton, as students will be drawing around it.

After students have glued the bones together, they need to draw around the skeleton and try to re-create the body as best they can. After outlining the skeleton, students make a sketch of what they think their animal looks like. This is done on their observation sheet. I tell students that this is an inference as they are taking the available data and inferring what their animal might look like. Students must add scales or fur or skin to their drawings, but their drawings must be agreed on, by the group before they draw.

Independent Work

20 minutes

After completing the group activity and drawing, students begin to process the information, individually. I offer students a set of questions to answer on the right-hand side of their interactive notebook. These questions could include:

  1. After looking at the bones, what assumptions did you make that might have influenced how you chose to arrange the bones? Explain.
  2. Did any of your group members disagree with your assumptions?
  3. How did you reconcile each group members’ assumptions to come up with the final bone arrangement?
  4. What did your group decide about what your animal was? Provide evidence.
  5. Where do you think your animal lived?
  6. What do you think your animal ate?

Group Debrief

15 minutes

After all students have been given a chance to answer these questions, have each group reveal their drawings. After each group have shared, I reveal the true identity of the animal.

The animal is an Archaeopteryx. It was a dinosaur form the Jurassic period. I hand students an information sheet about the animal.

We talk about how close their inferences were. We talk about how paleontologists make inferences about how dinosaurs looked based on just their bones. There is a lot we can tell about what an animal does, where it might live, what it might eat, based on its structure.


2 minutes

Much of my assessment for this lesson is done through observations during group work time. This is a time when I can see who is willing to take the time to try an idea, to reflect on its usefulness and adjust and try again. This is a great example of how the engineering design process can be used as a thought process as well. Observations will also show me who my natural leaders are and who has difficulty working in groups.

Interactive science notebook reflections will indicate how much of the previous lessons' information has become internalized and if the student can apply information learned to a new problem.

Lesson Extensions

1 minutes

I try to make my lessons as deep as possible, but not necessarily materials heavy. Much of the time, teachers find themselves constrained by budgets or lack of resources. However, if you have access to a university extension department, you might be able to borrow some real animal bones, some skulls, or a set of x-rays for a full animal body. These artifacts will allow students to complete the same task using real bones and/or skulls.

Sometimes, the local natural history museum will offer a similar inquiry for your students. I have had my students put together the skeleton of a baby moose on a field trip. If you teach in an area where hunting is prevalent, ask a hunter for the bones of an animal. That way, you have your own specimens for the nest time you teach this unit!