As we move away from astronomy and more into the history of life on Earth, I plan on using Big History as an excuse to study other sciences like paleontology, archaeology and anthropology. So today we watched some videos on paleontology, starting with a SciShow about the difference between paleontology and archaeology.
Paleontology 101: Untamed Science,
and a Day in the Life of a Paleontologist.
After the videos I passed around some fossils that we have bought and rock and gem shows, or science museums. Then the kids broke up into groups of two and got their own ‘dig’ – a plastic bowl filled with layers of playdoh, and each layer contains various ‘fossils’, ie pony beads of different colors. Lucky for me, one of the other moms makes excellent homemade ‘playdoh’ and made me 8 batches of different color. I then spent an hour and a half mixing beads in and layering the dough into the bowls the night before class. The students used milkshake straws (wider than your normal straw) to take core samples because I covered the sides of the bowls with duct tape so they couldn’t see the layers. The core samples didn’t work as well as I had hoped, some didn’t come up in the straw, others got stuck in the straws, etc. But the kids got the idea that there were different layers and it wasn’t uniform across the ‘dig’. After they had a set of core samples they got to excavate the fossils one layer at a time. They took turn taking out a layer of dough with spoons and searching for beads. When they were done with a layer they would record the color and number of fossils in each layer in a data table. Each layer had a different color of bead in it but perhaps a few of the color from the layer above and a few from the layer below. Looking at their data the students figured out which ‘fossil’s’ were the oldest (deepest layer) and which were the youngest, found in the top layer. I got this activity from the Earth’s Place in the Universe Interactive Organizers by Gay Miller.