Our 3rd grade students have been learning a TON lately about geology and paleontology.

In their classrooms, they’ve been…reading about rocks, soil, and fossils…collecting rocks and minerals…learning about the Mohs hardness scale…and even learning how to make molds and casts to get a hands-on understanding of how fossils form.

So, in the library, we’ve been immersing ourselves in even more rock and fossil resources that tie into both science and language arts.

*     *     *     *     *

For our first rock and fossil read-aloud, we enjoyed Carol Otis Hurst’s picture book Rocks in His Head:

image from indiebound.org

The main character of this inspiring story is Hurst’s father, an avid rock and mineral collector who could never afford a college education, opened his own gas station because “There’s no money in rocks,” lost everything in the Great Depression, and eventually worked his way up from night janitor at a science museum to Curator of Mineralogy.

Throughout the story, people tell the father that he has “rocks in his head”–sometimes as a statement of fact about his obsessive rock-collecting, and sometimes as an insult to his intelligence when he makes choices they think are ill-advised.

Besides noticing many connections between the father’s informal study of geology and their own, my 3rd grade students also used a graphic organizer on the SMARTBoard to track the father’s decisions in the story and how the consequences of these actions moved the narrative along.

(The kids were really excited when the father got promoted from janitor to curator at the end of the story. :))

*     *     *     *     *

The following week, we moved on from rocks to a preview of what students would be learning about fossils–and to do this, we visited a fantastic online interactive activity hosted by the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California:

screenshot from http://www.alfmuseum.org – click to view the full activity!

This virtual field trip takes students on an expedition from the Alf Museum in Claremont, California, to a Cretaceous-era rock formation in Escalante, Utah, and then back to the museum to study their fossil finds.

Through a combination of maps, images, animations, videos, diagrams, and interactive activities, students go through the steps of prospecting for fossils, excavating a hadrosaur skull, protecting the skull with a plaster jacked to transport it from field to museum, cleaning and preparing the fossil, curating it as a new entry in the museum records, and finally studying the specimen to learn more about its prehistoric past life.

All the kids were really engaged in this activity–and, even better, they were eager to learn more about fossils afterwards!

*     *     *     *     *

Last week, we delved even deeper into our study of fossils by reading Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and Her Remarkable Discoveries by Dan Brown:

image from indiebound.org

This picture book biography narrates the life story of famed fossil hunter Mary Anning, who left school at the age of eleven to support her destitute family after the death of her father, who discovered her first ichthyosaur fossil in 1811 at the age of twelve, and who went on to become a world-renowned expert in the field of paleontology despite her meager means and lack of formal education.

My 3rd graders and I both learned so much from this story! Of course, we made many text-to-text connections between Mary Anning’s story and Rocks in his Head, but we also learned a lot about the very precise conditions necessary for a fossil to form–not to mention the dangerous and sometimes death-defying hazards Anning risked to in order to find these rare treasures!

To close this lesson, we used two different resources to learn more about the conditions necessary for a fossil to form.

One resource we used was the Burying Bodies interactive from the BBC’s Science & Nature: Prehistoric Life site:

screenshot from http://www.bbc.co.uk – click to view the full activity!

For this activity, students predicted what they thought would happen when a creature died in different locations–out in the open, in the mud, under the base of a crumbling cliff, in the water, and in a lava flow. Then, students took turns dragging the dead creature to those locations to see which predictions were correct, and an animation in the top right corner of the screen showed them the results.

The animations in this activity are almost comically graphic but definitely in an age-appropriate way, and the text in the bottom right pane provides more information about why certain conditions are necessary for a fossil to form.

The other activity that some classes had time for was this one from the University of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley, which hosts a whole series of interactive science exploration modules perfect for K-12 use:

screenshot from http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu – click to view the full activity!

We started in the middle of this activity with the section titled Becoming a Fossil, and students were able to view photos, diagrams, and illustrations to see the conditions needed for a fossil to form. Plus, this interactive has some quick, engaging quiz and prediction questions built right into the activity!

*     *     *     *     *

Next week will be our last week of paleontology, and we are ending on a lighter note with a super-funny picture book, Big Old Bones by Carol and Donald Carrick:

image from indiebound.com

In this silly story, the fictional character of Professor Potts discovers a fascinating array of dinosaur bones, which he then works hard to assemble–but his process is a little less scientific than you’d expect, and the resulting reconstruction is kooky and far-fetched.

While the story itself is pretty heavy on humor and light on scientific content, a note in the book explains the basis of the story–that the first paleontologists often made assumptions and predictions that were not the most educated guesses, and many of these gaffes were proven inaccurate upon further study.

One example of this is the story of iguanodon, a dinosaur that in the early 1800s was named by Richard Mantell for its similarities to modern iguanas. One piece of the iguanodon’s anatomy was a horn-like bone that Mantell wrongly assumed was from the creature’s snout (similar to a rhinocerous).

Later, paleontologists learned that this body part wasn’t a horn at all, but a large spike on the iguanodon’s thumb!

So, after we read Big Old Bones, we’ll visit the dinohunters website to learn more about iguanodon’s story.

We’ll wrap up with this fun Skeleton Jigsaws activity from the same BBC site linked above:

screenshot from http://www.bbc.co.uk – click to view the full activity!

In this interactive, my 3rd graders will get the chance to try their own hands at reconstructing prehistoric creatures from their fossil remains!

*     *     *     *     *

It’s always fun to integrate science connections into our library activities, and 3rd grade’s rock and fossil unit is one of my favorite examples of this. 🙂

Upcoming posts: science connections in 1st and 2nd grade, plus social studies connections in 2nd, 4th, and 5th!

New: Visit the sidebar for links to full lesson plans!