Common Core & NGSS

STEM Tuesday — Digging Up History/Archeology– Writing Tips & Resources

Introduction (aka The Mike Hays “work-a-Jurassic Park-reference-in-any-chance-I-get” opening paragraph.)

There’s some really cool experimental technology in the first part of Jurassic Park (I know, I know! There’s cool theoretical technology all over Jurassic Park but bear with me.). Take the Thumper, computer-assisted sonic tomography (CAST), technology, for example. The Thumper fires a lead slug into the ground creating waves which are analyzed by a computer to give an image. Dr. Alan Grant distrusts the technology but when the computer transforms the wave echo to yellow contour lines in the shape of a perfect juvenile velociraptor skeleton on the screen, he realizes technology might not be all bad. 

By National Park Service – Public Domain

All the Lovely Facts (aren’t always so lovely)

I’m a fact nerd. One of the reasons I enjoy writing is the process of research and the collection of interesting facts on a particular subject. In some ways, my facts nerdom is a blessing. In other ways, it’s a curse. 

Why?

Crafting a STEM story, project or homework assignment is usually based on facts. The creative and/or informative work begins with a collection of relevant facts—an often unruly and random collection with a lack of cohesion. In short, the massive collection of somewhat related facts becomes a chaotic mess. These are tossed in a pile, studied, and then lined up in some sort of order that resembles the story inside your head you wish to tell. Then comes the work.

  • Dig deep
  • Chip away
  • Clear away the dust
  • Extract
  • Clean

Finding your story is like finding the fossilized femur bone in the side of a mountain. Discover, dig, chip away, clear what doesn’t belong, and shine it until it sparkles and is ready to put on display. Writing becomes a whole lot like archaeology. Your story is out there. It’s buried deep under layers of sediment or fossilized in stone. Keep chipping away until you find it and then do the work to make it shine.

Melissa Stewart had an excellent Celebrate Science blog post in May of 2018 about the importance of focused nonfiction expository writing. Being a story archaeologist is key to producing this type of focused work. Sure one can use a drone camera to identify areas where a find likely exists, but until one gets focused on a site, does the digging, and finds the specific artifact, the drone picture is just a nice picture. A good story is the same. Focused. It grabs the reader from their drone-height view and embeds them into the story. 

Hits & Misses

All the data suggests below the spot you now stand is a goldmine of artifacts. Artifacts you’ve spent your entire adult life searching for. Your heart pounds in anticipation as you can almost feel the remnants of an ancient society held gently in your gloved hands. You dream of headlines, prestigious publications, research grants, and museum exhibitions. 

The grid is set over the location and the excavation begins. Day after day, week after week, month after month pass without a single discovery. Finally, you give up and admit this site is a dud. 

Disappointing? Sure. 

Devastating? Maybe.

Time to give up? No way! 

You keep going because you know there’s something out there. You learn to accept the failures because you understand failure and success are made from the same cloth. The cloth of taking a chance on an idea. No one ever hit a baseball without swinging the bat. The same is true for science and writing. Moving forward often takes the courage to leap out of one’s comfort zone and into the unknown.

In writing nonfiction and fiction, ideas are cheap. They’re a dime a dozen plentiful. The fully fleshed and polished stories, however, are gold. There are more misses than hits in writing, especially when just starting out. With experience, though, the ratio begins to even out. A writer learns what works and what doesn’t work for them. They learn to focus. They learn to chip away at the rock until the perfect baby velociraptor skeleton of a story emerges. 

The key is to keep digging.

Keep swinging.

Your story is out there.

Make it happen. 

But please don’t start an amusement park of cloned, extinct alpha-predators without first considering the principles of chaos theory.

Have a STEM-filled 2019-2020 school year!

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

 


The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files uncover some interesting links and information exploring archaeology and history while digging up some STEM funnies. 

  • How do you discover a dinosaur? via The Guardian
  • Hunting for dinosaur bones in the digital age
    • “Nowicki flew drones with thermal and spectral cameras over hundreds of square miles to create high-resolution, three-dimensional maps accurate down to the inch. The process identified 250 likely new locations to find fossils.”
  • 4 New Technologies That Are Driving Archaeology Into the Future
    • “Human history can easily be covered by nature, but archaeologists like Cusicanqui can use drones and LIDAR and Muon Tomography to uncover our past.”
  • Archaeology unearthing the past using modern technology
    • “Archaeology has always been very interdisciplinary,” says Heather Richards-Rissetto, an archaeologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln told NBC’s MACH. “But I think now there’s a lot more collaboration between science and engineering than before, and archaeologists are a part of that, helping to develop the technologies to study the past.”
  • Tech in the Sediment: 12 Ways Archaeologists Use Technology
  • Not quite as exciting as Dr. Grant imaging an infant velociraptor skeleton embedded in the rock, here is a tutorial video on how to use Argus Electronic’s PiCUS Sonic Tomograph to measure cavities or decay in a tree non-invasively.

And now for something completely different…

Archaeological Funnies (via Funny-Jokes.com)

Archaeologists are fickle. They’re always dating other people.

Most mothers tell their daughters to marry doctors…
I told mine to marry an archaeologist because the older she gets, the more interested he will be in her.

Two archaeologists were excavating a tomb in Egypt.
1st Archaeologist: I just found another tomb of a mummified pharaoh!
2nd Archaeologist: Are you serious?
1st Archaeologist: No bones about it!

Q: Why did the archaeologist go bankrupt?
A: Because his career was in ruins.

Q: What do you get in a 5-star pyramid?
A: A tomb with a view.


 

 

 

STEM Tuesday — Digging Up History/Archeology– In The Classroom

I love both science and history, so I was really excited to read books on this month’s list. I confess to being a bit grossed out by some of the mummies, but these books didn’t disappoint. I saw many different aspects of the field of archaeology and learned a lot about the societies and people the archaeologists studied.

Mummies Exposed! by Kerrie Logan Hollihan

This book covers many different types of mummies. While many were purposeful, some were accidental. Through the examples, we learn about the science behind the creation of mummies. Analysis of the Items buried with the mummies gave clues to the type of people they had been and how they spent their time when they were alive.

 

 

 

The Whydah by Martin W. Sandler

The search for the pirate ship Whydah required the study of historical maps and records. These records, along with the artifacts discovered on the shipwreck paint a very different picture of pirates than we’ve come to expect.

 

 

 

Forgotten Bones by Lois Miner Huey

This book looks at what archaeologists have learned about a segment of society whose history has gone largely unwritten. I was fascinated by how much information they were able to glean from the bodies. Customs that left permanent marks on the body helped identify those who grew up in Africa versus those that grew up in America. Scars from injuries helped indicate what types of jobs the people performed. Most amazing was the ability of an artist to create a possible representation of each of the skeletons found using DNA analysis and the structure of the skulls.

 

Suggested Activities

In true “me” fashion, my brain went into overdrive thinking of activities that would fit well with these books. Here are a few…

Become an Artifact Detective

Archaeologists have to be detectives. They need to use the clues they’ve unearthed to figure out who these people were, how they lived, and what caused them to die. Challenge your class to be detectives, too.

First, have each person represent themselves with things. Have them pick 5 to 10 items that are often found with them. They could be things they carry around with them or wear every day. They could be favorite items or games we might find in their room at home.

To include science in this exercise, have the students describe the items as a scientist would. What is the item made of? What color is it? What are its measurements? Include a sketch or photo of the item. You could even pretend that these things have been buried for centuries. What would degrade and what would stay whole? If it broke into pieces, what would a defining feature be that might give a clue to what the item is?

For the next part, make sure each list doesn’t identify who the items belong to. Instead, use a student number or a nickname like the archaeologists did in the books.

Provide the set of lists to the class. This could be done by posting them around the room or through a virtual message board. Challenge the students to identify which of their classmates belongs with each of the artifact lists.

Once everyone has attempted to identify their classmates based on their artifacts, have each person present their artifacts and explain why they picked the items they did. The students will not only practice deductive reasoning, they’ll also get to know each other better.

Do Some Research

The discoveries described in The Whydah and Forgotten Bones relied upon historical research to help identify what was discovered. In the case of The Whydah, historical records like maps and diaries helped provide the location where excavators should look for the lost ship.

Use these examples to look into where historical records can be found and what kinds of information different documents can provide. This could even include a field trip to a local historical library or National Archives location and a lesson on how to use microfiche.

So many people use these resources – authors, archaeologists, genealogists, historians, lawyers, and more. To make this exercise more relatable, perhaps tie it to research into a local historical figure or genealogical research.

Debate the Issue

In Mummies Exposed! and Forgotten Bones, archaeologists faced cultures that believed burial grounds should remain untouched. After reading one or more of these books, have your students join the debate. Does the knowledge gained from archaeological research outweigh the beliefs that burial grounds should not be disturbed? Is it enough to rebury the bodies once they’ve been studied?

Other Ideas

Time Capsule

It occurred to me that each archaeological dig described in these books is like a time capsule. They capture what life was like for that person or people at the moment in time when they became buried or lost at sea. There are some good ideas here: http://www.timecapsule.com/time-capsule/how-to-make-a-school-time-capsule

Decoding the Past

The Smithsonian Learning Lab has a lesson about how archaeologists interpret artifacts called “Decoding the Past.” If you download the PDF, you will find an article on the subject and worksheets for some related activities. https://learninglab.si.edu/collections/decoding-the-past-the-work-of-archaeologists/AUq5scPw1RXKYyNy

Archaeology Activities

The Society for American Archaeology has a ton of activities for students, including a few about the Iceman (featured in Mummies Exposed!). https://www.saa.org/education-outreach/teaching-archaeology/k-12-activities-resources

 

I hope you and your students enjoy exploring these books and activities. If you have any suggestions for how you make archaeology and history come alive, please share in the comments below!

 


Janet pointing to Slingerland drum head of Chicago drummer Danny SeraphineJanet Slingerland loves learning about science, history, nature, and – well, everything – which she then turns into a book. She especially loves visiting living history museums, where the past really comes alive. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website: janetsbooks.com

You never know what you’ll find in a museum. Here’s a pic of Janet at the Musician’s Hall of Fame in Nashville, where she found a Slingerland drum head.

STEM Tuesday — Pets — Interview with Author Jodi Wheeler-Toppen

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Jodi Wheeler-Toppen about her just-released book CAT SCIENCE UNLEASHED: Fun Activities to Do with Your Feline Friends. School Library Journal says: “This book will be a delight to children who love cats and want to learn more about them using hands-on experiments.”

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about Cat Science Unleashed.

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen: Cat Science Unleashed is a book of science-based activities to do with your cat. The activities are fun–make your cat a toy that also tests her sniff-skills, find out how well your cat knows her territory, test her hearing and her night-vision, for example. They’ll show you cool things about your cat’s anatomy, physiology, psychology, etc. A lot of the activities also help you learn about the peculiarities of your special kitty–there’s a personality test, for example, where you can see how your cat compares to thousands of cats from around the world.

MKC: Developing cat-based activities must have been challenging!

Jodi: I wrote this book as a pairing to go with Dog Science Unleashed, which I also wrote. And I can tell you, the cat book was more of a challenge! For the dog book, my friends would drop their dogs at my house for the day and I would try activities with them (because I wanted to see how they worked with a variety of pups). But cats are so attached to their territories–it would terrify most cats to be dropped off at a strange house with a stranger. So I had to go to them and coax them out from under the bed or on top of the refrigerator or whatnot and try to engage them in my activities. It often worked best if I got the cat’s favorite person to try the activities while I watched.

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen is a former high school science teacher, with a Ph.D. in science education. She’s passionate about presenting science as exciting, suspenseful, and understandable. The author of more than a dozen science books for children and teachers, she also has a series on teaching strategies and activities from the National Science Teachers Association Press. Visit her at onceuponasciencebook.com

I got in trouble with one of my friends. I tested her three kittens for their paw preference by placing butter in a jar and watching how they got it out. She says that now, every morning when she makes toast, one-two-three little faces pop up over the countertop demanding butter! Sometimes an experiment would go great with one cat and then I’d never get it to work again. There was this fun one where I cut out detailed silhouettes of an angry cat and a peaceful cat and taped them to the wall. One pair of kitties gave great responses, arching their backs at the angry cat and rubbing against the peaceful one. But then I could never get another cat to respond, so I didn’t put it in the book.

MKC: How would you describe the approach you took to writing this book?

Jodi: I tried to work backwards from the science to the activities. So I looked for science ideas that were super cool or seemed important if you were going to understand your kitty. Then I thought, what is the craziest way we could look at this? What could you do with your cat that would be really fun or funny or would make Princess Fluffy super happy? I want it to be fun, for kids and their cats. I also want people to come away amazed at their purrfect pets!

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?

Jodi: I was a high school science teacher and I am still very involved in STEM education through writing and staff development. Life circumstances made it difficult for me to stay in the classroom, so writing is a way I can still teach. Plus, it’s so much fun to take a topic and think about what’s really cool, what would people really get a kick out of about this, and focus there. So much more fun than having to always stick to the education standards!

 

Win a FREE copy of Cat Science Unleashed!

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of The Tornado Scientist, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, Weird Animals, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson