When we started our fossil unit, I wanted to spark my kids’ excitement!
I asked my kids to come up to the carpet- a typical request- but then, I asked them to make two columns with some space in the middle. They were a little confused, but complied.
As they sat down, I started my monologue:
“Please ensure your seats are in the full upright position and all carry-on items have been stowed in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of you. The captain requires that you fasten your seatbelts and turn off all electronic devices until we reach cruising altitude. In case of an emergency, exits are located at the front of the airplane and over the wings. Thank you for flying Garwoodington Air.”
Then, I showed this YouTube video of a plane taking off.
My kids LOVED this! (Yes, even in 4th grade.) They mimicked shutting off their cell phones, buckling their seatbelts, and even shouted out when their ears “popped!”
After the plane took off, I told them, “You may now get out your electronic devices, but this flight goes surprisingly fast.”
I then turned away, and as I started the next video, covered my mouth with my fist to muffle it. “This is your captain speaking. As we begin our final approach, you can see the mountains in the distance, and the wide open skies that this state is so famous for. Please remain in your seats until the plane comes to a complete stop. We hope you enjoy your stay in beautiful Montana!”
As the plane “lands,” I move to the front of the seats and direct the students to move into the aisle and disembark. Then, they “drive” out to our dig site for the day (back to their tables) and I change the screen to show a photo of Montana and then of a paleontology dig site.
From there, we went through The Great Fossil Find, a mock paleontology dig from Indiana University. (Did I mention it’s free?)
I read from the script they provided to set the stage for each “day,” and my kids “dug” bones out of these envelopes a few at a time. As they found new bones, my little paleontologists had to change their configuration and predictions.
I loved this lesson for the excitement it brought- from sitting in a “plane,” to digging up bones, to the moment of discovery when my kids saw how the bones fit together! It was such an engaging way to kick off the unit!
Even better, I felt like the lesson not only taught some content, but also gave my kids a truer sense of what life as a scientist might really be like- needing to work as a team, revising your ideas as you find new evidence, not being able to check your work with an answer key, the need for patience, and the moment of frustration when they had to leave the rest of the bones inside the envelope!
I did type out a more 4th grade-friendly version of the Fossil Journal for my students, which you can download here: Mock Fossil Dig Handout
All other downloads are available from IU here: http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/lessons/gr.fs.fd.html
Even if you aren’t teaching fossils, I highly recommend taking 5 minutes at the start of class to “fly” to a destination. It really sets the stage for a fun and interactive virtual field trip that could take you anywhere- to learn about holidays around the world, to visit important landforms or historical landmarks, or even to visit the scene of a story.
Take the time to make learning come alive. It doesn’t always take costumes and elaborate props- sometimes it’s as simple as prompting kids to use their imaginations!