Fossils: Stones and Bones, part 3: Searching for Fossils on the Internet

Use these helpful resources as you study fossils in your homeschool!

Fossil Sites and Collecting Locations
Straight-forward list by state.

Fossils for Kids
Great, creative website with fun things like the X Marks the Spot page, Now and Then (my favorite), and a Shark Teeth collection!

St. Louis Science Center
Nice museum site: fossils, dinosaurs, and many other topics.

The Creation Museum
70,000 square foot museum in Kentucky that brings the pages of the Bible to life!

San Diego Natural History Museum: Finding Fossils
Kids’ site on the who, what, when, where, why of fossils

Fossils, Rocks, and Time
Produced by the US Geological Survey, a very informative site for your older students

Everything Fossils…Fossil Facts and Finds
An educational site that tells you everything you need to know about fossils, including activities, coloring pages, specific dinosaur information, articles, links, and lesson plans

Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, Inc.
“the leader in paleontological excavations and preparation since 1974, BHI has been helping supply museums and collectors the finest in professionally prepared fossils and cast replicas.”

United Kingdom Natural History Museum: Dino Directory
Online guide to 333 dinosaurs, images, and classroom activities with printable data files.

Champlain Sea Fossils
See pictures of sea fossils from Canada.

Collecting Fossils in California
All you need to know if that’s the state you hail from- check it out!
You can purchase fossils from this outfit: specializing in low-cost, quality fossils.

Fossil Lesson Plans from Dinosaur Train!
I couldn’t resist.  I will definitely be using this with my little Dinosaur Train fanatic.

Print Resources:

An Illustrated Guide to Fossil Collecting by Richard Casanova and Ronald P. Ratkevich.  A fundamental book on fossils and fossil collecting, it starts out with a brief history of collecting incuding some of the famous collectors of the past like Mary Anning who was twelve when she found a complete skeleton of Ichthysaurus.  Following a description of fossils and  how they are formed, is a discussion of fossil classification.  Sounds technical but it is written for the real person who collects for his or her own bookshelf.  There is a generic chapter on the history of the Earth, evolutionary, of course, but written from the ecological standpoint.  Chapters on how to collect and display your fossils are included.  Lists of resources with museums, geological surveys, societies and paleontological libraries finish up the book.  The best chapter in number seven.  This is the chapter on fossil collecting localities in North America.  This is definitely the resource you need to find fossils on your vacation trips.  Recommended for all ages.

Dry Bones…and other fossils by Gary Parker.  A Master Books publication, this one is written from a Creationists viewpoint.  It is a dialog between Dr. Gary Parker and his family on a typical fossil hunting trip in Indiana, Dr. Parker covers most of the bases in the creationist story of the Earth from creation to the big flood, explaining fossils and how they are made.  This book also comes in a read-along tape version for your little ones.

The Illustrated Origins Answer Book  by Paul S. Taylor.  A wonderful reference book for older readers, the Answer Book has two parts: a textbook and a reference section.  The text is very concise having good definitions which are not oversimplified on the page the word occurs.  This book is not for young children, but for interested adults and older children who have been wondering about some little problem with scientific creationism, but didn’t know where to look.  There many quotes from scientists, creationists as well as non-creationists, in the reference section.  A handy reference for creationists who may become involved in debates or lively discussions.

Field Guide to North American Fossils by Ida Thompson.  Photographs!  In color!  This field guide claims to be the first all-photographic one published. Written for the field, the guide is valuable to have in your field pack so that you can identify that odd fossil without losing face before your children.  Actually, any age can use this great little guide.  It is, of course, evolutionary and has a description in the first part of the history of the Earth period by period.  There are interesting details of recent research in this discussion, so don’t overlook it just because of the evolutionary bias.  After the photo section is a chapter which uses words to describe the fossils of that type.  The discussions are correlated to the photos.

Roadside Geology Series This series is wonderful for keeping in the car on a trip and reading along as you ride through the countryside.  Most of the major routes through a state are covered in the books and a lot of the minor ones.  Geology is best studied outside and these books help you do that.  They help you figure out what is going on with the Earth as you travel past roadway cuts and outcroppings.  The book for Texas covers the different geographical sections (examples are from Southeast Texas: Upper Gulf coast), the typical landforms (like saltdomes and rivers), the different processes still going on (like longshore drift and hurricanes), and the larger routes (like Interstates 10, 35, and 45)  and US routes (59 and 290) and state routes (36)  The glossary in the back and lots of pictures throughout the text make it simple to understand.  Most states are covered, you can purchase the books at The Geology Store.

Dino-Trekking:  The Ultimate Dinosaur Lover’s Travel Guide   by Kelly Milner Halls.  This is another traveling book, but you’ll use it before you get in the car.  Well-known and not so well-known dinosaur sites are listed and described here.  In the margin are the details like address, admission prices, and facilities available. There are side boxes with interesting notes from the curators of some of the museums and parks. The last section is a description of many dinosaurs plus a few non-dinosaurs which are included.  Useful for dinosaur lovers.

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Fossils: Stones and Bones, part 2

Here are some activities for you to try at home as you study fossils!

1. Make a cast of a footprint.
Find a really nice paw print of a dog, of a cat, or of some other animal. Clear away the leaves and debris from the outer edges of the print. Take a 1-inch wide strip of card stock (an index card works well) about 11-inches long (longer if necessary) and staple it into a circle. Place the card circle so that it surrounds the print like a fence. Dig it into the dirt a little so that it is secure.  Pour plaster which is the consistency of toothpaste into the print and the fence.  Let set and remove.  You should have a cast of the print.  If you do not have a good footprint, make one using your dog, a little dirt, and some water.  Make mud and press your dog’s paw into it.  Allow the print to dry until it is hard enough to keep it’s shape when touched.  Then make the cast as before.

2. Making a plaster copy of a footprint.
After your cast of the animal footprint has become firm, put a thin layer of petroleum jelly all around the inside of the cast.  Put another card stock sleeve around the casting to make a cuplike form.  Pour plaster of paris at a toothpaste consistency into the cup.  Allow to set.  Remove the card stock and separate the layers.  You should now have a plaster copy of the foot print.  You can do this with your little sister’s hand print, too.

3. Dissolving the bone / the first step of replacement.
When a future fossil is replaced by minerals it is done very slowly, a particle at a time so that the structure of the original organism is still preserved by the replacing minerals.  Sometimes even the cells of the plant are able to be seen even though the original cells are long gone.  This is how the trees were petrified in the Petrified Forest.  The water first dissolves the material of the organism, then replaces it with another particle, a mineral.  Some fossils are replaced with beautiful agates and are turned into wonderful specimen you can use as decorations at home.

You can not try replacement, but you can experiment with the first part of the process, the removal of the material of a bone.  Place a chicken bone in a glass of vinegar or of carbonated water.  Each of these liquids are acidic and will dissolve the calcium out of the bone leaving the cartilaginous material which bends easily.  When a tooth is placed in carbonated water, it will dissolve completely.  Ground water filtering through a future fossil may be acidic.  This acid will dissolve the calcium in the organism leaving a spot which may be filled by a mineral also in the water.  A useful tip:  You can increase the calcium content of a stew by adding the bones of the meat along with a tablespoon of vinegar.  You will not taste the difference but the stew will have a considerable amount of calcium in it taken from the bone by the acid.

4. Fossil hunt
You can make up some artificial fossils by putting objects to be excavated into a matrix which is then carved away to reveal the “fossils”.   What you choose to place into the matrix should depend upon the age of the child and whether it is to be eaten during the experiment.

There are several different things you can use as the matrix.  Some people prefer using plaster of Paris because of its rock-like texture, but it is hard and can be difficult to carve.  If you use this matrix be sure to use eye protection.  Parafin can be used and then carved easily with nails and popsicle sticks.  You can simulate different rock layers by using crayons to color the melted wax.  Remember to be careful with the melted wax.  You can even use cake dough and cook some whole pecans into the dough.  Excavating can be done with forks and spoons.  Jello is another matrix you can use for the “fossil” excavation.  If using an edible matrix, be sure to use edible “fossils”.

The best type of fossil hunt you can do, though, is outside hunting real fossils.  If you live in a city, look for building made of limestone, marble, or some other once sedimentary material.  Many building materials have fossils in them.  Marble, though, once sedimentary has been metamorphosed and changed by pressure or temperature.  The fossils within will have been changed, too, but in many cases are still recognizable.  Many libraries have shells embedded in their steps and we walk over them without ever noticing them.

5. Collecting data.
Use a 3×5 Data Card to record notes while collecting fossils.  You may forget where you collected the specimen and you may want to remember a particular location. On a 3×5 card, jot down the following notes:

Name of the fossil (type of creature or plant, if you know it):
Rocks the fossil came from:
Drawing of the position of the fossil in the rock:
Location of collection site: Get out and collect some fossils and try some of these activities!  Stay tuned for part 3 of this post: Internet and Print Resources for the study of fossils.

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Everyday Science: The Coffee Problem

Science is around us all the time.  But we knew that, right?  As you drink your morning coffee, consider this problem posed to my college calculus class years ago:

You have just poured yourself a hot cup of coffee and are about to add cream, cold from the refrigerator, when the telephone rings.  Should you pour the cream before or after you answer the phone?  

Simple, right?  Our class was tasked to write a differential equation to describe the problem.  My time-weakened and diaper-dulled brain couldn’t even begin to tackle the problem now, but it could prove an interesting discussion for your middle school through high school homeschoolers.  Call it an opening bell attention gainer.  It might need to be accompanied with an explanation of why you would answer the phone at all when the person calling could just as well text or e-mail and then the entire problem would be solved.  But pretend for arguments’ sake you did have to get the phone.

Some questions that might come up:  What is the temperature at which you prefer to drink the coffee?  How hot is the coffee and how cold is the cream?  How long will the phone conversation last?  Once the cream is poured, how long will the coffee take to reach a drinkable temperature?  What other factors might be present that would affect the cooling rate of the coffee?  Ambient temperature of the room?  Mass of the cup?  Composition of the cup?  On what surface is the cup sitting?  Which factors will be most important in considering how fast the coffee will cool?  Which factors will be least important?  What if the cream started at room temperature?  Would it help slow cooling to put the coffee cup in a smaller space?  Is there a ceiling fan on?  Are any of these questions red herrings?

Heat transfer is taking place between the coffee and the air, between the cream and the coffee, between the coffee-cream mixture and the cup, and between the cup and the counter.  These transfers of heat are happening at different rates based on initial temperature of each, the mass or volume of each, and the temperature differential.  These transfers of heat follow the Second Law of Thermodynamics in an attempt to reach thermal equilibrium.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy always increases.  Entropy is a measure of the disorder of the thermodynamic system.  Disorder increasing, energy dispersing, becoming distributed amongst other elements of the system.  A hammer falls when you release it from shoulder height.  A ball rolls downhill when you release it at the top of the hill.  Coffee cools to room temperature.  Heat transfers from hot to cold, always, and never the other way around unless work is injected into the equation, such as the forced heat transfer that happens in your refrigerator coils.  Entropy always increases. (Lets save closed and open system discussions for that high school physics class)

Heat always moves from hot to cold.  The hotter the hot body and the cooler the cool body, the faster the transfer will occur.  If your coffee sat on the counter at room temperature, would any heat transfer be occurring?  No, because thermal equilibrium has already been attained.  This should shed some light on the question of when to add the cream.  When you add the cream, you are reducing the initial temperature of the coffee and bringing it closer to room temperature right out of the gate.  Know the answer yet?

The three basic forms of heat transfer are convection, conduction, and radiationConvection is transfer by means of fluid flow, remembering that a fluid can mean a liquid or a gas.  Conduction is transfer between atoms in contact with each other, remembering that this can be the top layer of molecules of coffee and the bottom layer of air molecules, or the first layer of the cup, and so out and so up and so forth..  Radiation is heat transfer by means of electromagnetic waves, in this case, the charged particles of the hot coffee producing thermal radiation.  For this problem, the question can be asked how each of these processes are occurring, and how fast they are occurring, but these are incidental to answering the initial question of whether or not to add the cream before answering the phone.

Once you are done with your coffee, and your roundtable discussion of how fast it has cooled, you can answer the question of when to add the cream, and then watch this old video from the California Institute of Sciences, which Dr. Ross must have seen back in the day before he taught that differential equations class.  Did you answer the problem correctly?

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