Jul 10, 2014

WonderWorks: Digging Tools! (Technology)

Paleontologists use many different tools to dig for fossils--how do they choose which tools are the right ones for the job?

Today's Topic: Tools for Digging
shovels (as wide a variety of sizes as you can pull together, but not too heavy or sharp)
sand (we used modeling or "moon" sand similar to this but regular sand would work fine)
things to bury (we used fossils and minerals on loan from the UW Geology Museum plus plastic dinosaurs and a floor puzzle)
wading pool
styrofoam packing peanuts (or other inexpensive, bulky filler)
tarps (to cover your floor if it's carpeted)
plastic dinos frozen in a big block of ice
old toothbrushes, paint brushes or other brushes
spoons, butter knives
safety glasses (optional)

cover art Digging up dinosaurs / Aliki

Before class:
--divide the sand up between your containers and bury objects in the sand.
--fill the wading pool with packing peanuts and bury the pieces of the floor puzzle under them.  Consider only burying SOME of the puzzle pieces (scientists don't often uncover a complete skeleton after all, and they need to make inferences and fill in the missing gaps with good guesses!).
--freeze dinos in ice.  This will take at least 24 hours and needs to happen in several stages (freeze about a 1-2" layer of water first, then add dinos and more water, but not enough to make them float and freeze that layer, then fill to the top and fill that).

What Kids Do:  Dig up minerals:
 (sometimes you need to use TWO shovels!)
brush the sand off with toothbrushes:
 Bury them again for the next kid to find:
 Or... just make a mineral pie in the sifter (note:  moon sand doesn't really sift very easily):
 Or play with the modeling capabilities of moon sand:

 Chip away at that ice with metal tools:
 "But I can see the dinosaur's tail, so we MUST be getting closer!"
 Maybe this toothbrush will help....
 This feels cold and slippery and hard!
 Sawing action with the butter knife was productive!
 But a spray bottle with warm water was the gentlest and also most effective technique (the dinos weren't actually released until after the second class, despite much diligent work to free them from their icy cage).
 Digging with bigger shovels in the wading pool to find pieces of a floor puzzle (note:  no one showed any interest in using the snow shovel I'd brought along in case someone wanted to try a BIG shovel.):

 Someone had brought along this cute little dump truck which was perfect for hauling away loads of packing peanuts from the dig site.
 Ta Da!  The puzzle is complete!  (whew!  no lost pieces!)

Adult Challenge of the week:  Ask "I Wonder" questions.  This was the most successfully embraced adult challenge I've done for a long time.  I heard LOTS of great "I wonder" questions around the room in both classes, ranging from things like, "I wonder what made that fossil" to "I wonder what would happen if you tried this tool?"  Of course, my favorite "I wonder" questions are the ones adults ask when they really DON'T know the "correct" answer and they do actually "wonder"!

Hindsight Tip: 
--  I knew moonsand would be a mess, but wow.  It's a mess.  Even with tarps and trying to be careful with it, it's really tricky not to fling it out of the container when you're digging and once clumps of it land on the ground and someone (ahem, ME) steps on it and it gets stuck on their shoe and then dragged all over the room... packing peanuts are also tricky to vacuum.  I didn't mind cleaning up the mess (I think this class ran longer than any other WonderWorks classes I've done so far, kids and parents both LOVED it!!), but you should be prepared to spend some time sweeping or vacuuming after class.
--Don't be afraid to ask participants to bring their own shovels.  I sent out an e-mail the day before and we ended up with way more shovels than we needed.  Best part?  I don't have to find storage for all those shovels!
--Little siblings need to be watched closely around the digging spoons and old toothbrushes.  It's a difficult concept to realize that tools can be used for something other than their original purposes.

 Variations to try: If you have ANY outdoor space that you don't mind kids digging in, that would be so much fun (and cheaper) and you might not even need to bury anything.  Kids love digging.

Note added 7/2015: 
found a new cute book about using different kinds of digging tools with a dinosaur surprise at the end:
cover art Digger Dog / Bee, William

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