With all the hype right now with Megalodon Sharks (Meg), Prehistoric Dinosaurs (Jurassic Park), even the Predator films are dealing with evolution and (future) fossils. My kids this month took a step back as well. We took a step back in time, nearly 65 million years back!
This past summer I was lucky enough to receive a travel grant to attend a conference at the University of Florida Natural History Museum’s @iDigFossils Teacher Program. There we learned about incorporating fossils with our current 3D printers into the subject matter across all educational domains. We learned how to blend NGSS into CCSS, and include engineering, art, reading, and even PE into lessons about Earth from millions of years ago. We went panning for shark teeth, digging for miniature horse bones, and even got to touch the well-documented find-of-a-lifetime, Titanoboa vertebrae.
Now, my 10-year-olds were more interested in what did it eat (full crocodiles), how did it catch its prey (asphyxiation), and how big was it really? To help answer that last question, we created our own PBL units that were published by the department. My class used the vertebrae template, the scanned image(s) of the fossilized bone found by UofF professors in Columbia, and worked in groups to design ‘the most efficient way to print them on our printers.’ Students worked in groups using computer assisted drafting (CAD) software, TinkerCad, to complete their tasks. They used math measurements to try and minimize supports (these are tree-like structures a 3D printer uses on overhangs, to keep the shape of the object you are printing). The problem with supports is that is wastes your printer filament (the plastic it prints with). So the kids finally managed to design a print that contained two bones on one printing plate, with minimized supports, and settings that allowed us to print twice a day, on each printer.
The kids had fun working together towards a common goal. After about a week we had 45 vertebrae finally printed. We took some white yarn and our fossils and went out to the playground. I wanted the kids to really understand how long this snake was. We measured out 45 feet of yarn, and at about every 12 inches, a student tied their individual fossil onto the main string. It was quite the site to seek the shock, and terror, in some of their faces when they realized the size of this monster. We did a wiggle activity and the kids followed me around on the blacktop as we slithered back and forth as a snake playing follow the leader. Back in the classroom, we worked with units of distance and converted everything from millimeters, centimeters, inches, feet, and yards. We hit standards on standards and we weren’t trying too hard.
We finished up our Titanoboa Week with a ‘chat with a scientist’ interview with the awesome Ms. Jeanette Pirlo, representing Florida Museum Of Natural History, Vertebrate Paleontology Department! She gave kids a great glimpse into the fields of science and paleontology. We learned some new facts about Titanoboa, and she helped motivate some of my little girls to think about maybe one day going into a field of science and STEM. They are SO very excited to each be taking home their very own full sized Titanoboa 3D printed fossil!
Titanoboa might have been from Earth’s past, but with today’s technology, it is fueling the curiosity of kids from today. Check out the @FossilProject for plenty of 3D Printed fossils, lesson plans, and tips and tricks alike.