Fossils unit study

Yesterday I posted my list of resources and activities for a unit on the geologic time scale.  Today I am posting my list of ideas for studying fossils with my fourth grader.  

Here is the link to the guide as it appears in my Google Docs:

Or, you can read on below:



1) Watch the Fossils video on BrainPop.  (approximately 3.5 minutes)  

(We pay $6.99/month to use BrainPop videos on our iPad.  You can also subscribe to the web version.) 


2) Read pages 14-17 of The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History.


3) Watch the Bill Nye video on fossils:


4) Read the book Under Ohio: The Story of Ohio’s Rocks and Fossils.  Pick one of the fossils listed in the book and research it.  Write a paragraph about your chosen fossil and draw a picture of it.  (The DK Eyewitness Fossil book might be a good place to start.)


5) Read pages 114-123 of Basher’s Rocks and MInerals: A Gem of a Book.  Fold a sheet of paper into four squares.  In each square draw a picture or write a description of each of the four types of fossils.


6) Make your own fossil. (Supplies: a sponge, water, magnesium sulfate, and sand plus a container)


7) Follow the link to play a create-a-fossil game:


8) Watch this video on petrified wood and petrified forests:  (Approximately 3.5 minutes)


9) Read the following blog entry about petrified wood and mineral colors:  Using the information on the blog, draw a colorful picture of some petrified wood and label the bands with what minerals might have been present in the environment around the tree as it permineralized.  


10) Here is a video about the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona:  (Approximately 5 minutes long)


11) Read about coprolite:


12) Read the book Jurassic Poop by Jacob Berkowitz.


13) Complete the Who Dung It? activity that you can find described in this PDF:


14) Watch this How It’s Made video on how replica fossils are made:  

The video you are looking for is from season 4, episode 3. (Currently free streaming with Amazon Prime)


15) Read pages 62-63 of the DK Eyewitness Fossil book.  Using things you can find around the house, start putting together your own fossil hunting kit.


16) Read pages 16-17 of the DK Eyewitness Fossil book.   These pages talk specifically about fossil folklore.  If you are feeling particularly creative, you can write a little story about someone who finds a fossil that they believe is “good” or “bad” luck.


17) This link leads to tons more information on fossil folklore, how fossils have been  used in medicine and as decoration:


18) Add at least 5 more quiz cards to your trivia game filebox.  Use the DK Eyewitness Fossil book, the Usborne Spotter’s Guide: Rocks and Minerals, or some other fossil book if you need help finding more facts or want to delve deeper.


Unit studies

This summer I have been trying to put together some social studies and science mini-units for the fall that I hope my fourth grader will enjoy.  Last school year we did a huge unit study on rocks and minerals that morphed into a big 4-H project that we completed last month.  Towards the end of the rocks and minerals study, we touched briefly on fossils, so I want to try to continue in that area of science for a while longer and see where it leads us.  

It has been going more slowly than I had hoped, but I have three science topic guides just about finished.  I will try to share them as I finish in case anyone else wants to use them.  The first one is on the geologic time scale.  For each of these I have quite a list of possible books, videos, activities, assignments, etc.  I doubt we will actually do every little thing on my list, but I tend to prefer to be over-prepared in case the topic really piques his interest.  

You can view as a file on Google Docs here:

Or you can read on below:

Topic 1 – Geologic Time Scale


1) Watch the Geologic Time Scale video on BrainPop.  (approximately 3 minutes)

BrainPop is a subscription resource.  We use it on the iPad for $6.99/month.


2) Read pages 12-13 of The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History.  


3) Read pages 186-187 of The Usborne Encyclopedia of Science.


4) Watch this video on the Geologic Time Scale: (approximately 3 minutes)


5) Explore this interactive on the Geologic Time Scale: (15+ minutes)


6) Explore the Geotimescale enhanced app on the Kindle Fire.  (15+ minutes)


7) Play “What Came First?”  Directions for the activity can be found midway through the following page:  (Supplies: Index cards, marker)


8) Follow this link to see Geologic Time represented as a clock:


9) Make a toilet paper roll Geologic Time Scale.  Look at the following links for help:  or

Or use long lengths of colored ribbon:

(Supplies needed: spools of different colored ribbon or toilet paper, marker or pen. A roll of adding machine tape would work as well instead if you can find some at an office supply store.)


10) Make at least 5 quiz cards.  Quiz cards will be used for an end-of-the-year trivia game.  Here are some examples of what you might want to write cards about:


which periods trilobites, dinosaurs, forests, and humans first appeared

which period saw the extinction of the dinosaurs

the name of the current epoch

approximately how old the earth is


(Supplies needed: Index cards, pen, box for storing your finished cards)

You could make the cards on the computer instead and print them out onto cardstock.  


11) Pick one period of geologic time to research. Write a paragraph of at least 5 sentences about it.  Pages 24-101 of The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History should be helpful.  The interactive at the following link could be helpful as well for information:  Include a picture or two as well with your report.


Tree Time

After reluctantly crawling out of bed Sunday morning, I looked out the second story window to the backyard and noticed that our walnut tree is nearly nude. It was a sudden and startling reminder to me that summer is just about gone now. The walnut tree is always the first tree in our yard to lose all of its leaves. In just a few weeks, it will be time to rake up approximately three zillion dry, dead leaves from the backyard and drag them on tarps to the front curb for the city to incinerate. However, I forbid the leaves to die quite yet because that doesn’t fit in with my particular curriculum plans at this moment. 🙂

The walnut tree when it still had leaves and walnuts back in August.

The walnut tree when it still had leaves and walnuts back in August.

Over the summer I had this grand idea that we would take the time this school year to explore and learn to identify as many trees as we could. We would read about trees, take photographs, collect leaves and other tree detritus for preserving, do some “leafy” craft projects, and discuss how wonderfully awesome trees are. I checked out some cool tree books from the library. I bought a brand new binder to use to hold the pages for our “tree” journal. I searched the web for tree-related recipes and craft projects. I had everything all planned out before the school year had even started.

Despite all my previous planning, we only made it out and about, tree identification book and cameras in hand, a handful of times. We did manage to photograph a few trees, but in a few cases, identifying which trees were which using the book proved a little more difficult than I had originally thought it would be. I still can’t figure out what the heck the little tree on our tree lawn is. If it’s actually in my Trees of Ohio: Field Guide, it’s doing a good job of hiding from me.

I can't find a single tree in our Trees of Ohio book that has leaves this color.

I can't find a single tree in our Trees of Ohio book that has leaves this color.

Even though we failed to name every tree we came across on our little walks around the neighborhood, I was not ready to give up quite yet and let autumn get on with its business. Sunday before I had work, we headed to the university to look around for some more trees to identify. The university is a great place to look for trees because there are so many different tree types all over campus. I knew for sure that there were both oak and buckeye trees, so at the very least, we could successfully study and identify those ones. It’s hard to mistake a buckeye tree for anything else.

Tobin checking out a buckeye with Dad.

Tobin checking out a buckeye with Dad.

One, two, three, four, five leaves from a buckeye tree...

One, two, three, four, five leaves from a buckeye tree...

I told Ken and the kids that our first goal for our tree study was to identify 10 different tree types before the snow starts flying. Between the few trees we could identify back from our own backyard, our walks in August, and the ones we looked at on the university’s campus, we should be able to meet our goal. Next spring when the trees start budding again, I am hoping we’ll be able to add some more to our list.

Here are a few of the trees we’ve photographed for our tree journal:

Some kind of pine tree.   We weren't quite able to narrow it down more than that.

Some kind of pine tree. We weren't quite able to narrow it down more than that.

A bald cypress

A bald cypress

a yellow buckeye tree

a yellow buckeye tree

a spruce tree...I think it's a white spruce

A spruce tree...I think it's a white spruce.

Ken says this one's a crab apple.

Ken says this one's a crab apple.

An oak, not sure which type yet though...

An oak, not sure which type yet though...

Tobin had the most fun looking at the acorns and the buckeyes. On Monday he kept telling me about how many buckeyes he “captured” the day before.



Tobin holding one of the buckeyes he captured.  It put up quite a fight.

Tobin holding one of the buckeyes he captured. It put up quite a fight.

Steve kept trying to eat the crab apples but was also impressed by the buckeyes. The ones we found were from a yellow buckeye tree. Buckeyes from an Ohio buckeye tree are supposed to have a spiny outer shell instead of a smooth one. If anyone happens to know where an Ohio buckeye tree can be found, drop us a line and let us know where so we can check one out.

Steve’s first terrarium

Last week, I taught Steve how to build a simple plant terrarium. He was very excited about the idea. Although he certainly does love animals a whole lot, he also likes plants. We are hoping to put together a hydroponics project sometime later this school year in addition to several other plant related projects.

I have actually wanted to do the terrarium project with Stephen for quite a while. I saved a few empty pickle jars and empty salsa jars some time ago. After peeling off the labels and scrubbing them out, I left the jars and their lids in the basement until we found the right time to do the project and had all of the various supplies on hand. On Tuesday, we finally had our act together and were ready to make our terrarium.

Besides a clean jar, we also needed potting soil, activated charcoal, small rocks, moss, a spoon, and whatever decorative elements we wanted to include. Steve chose a tiny glass parrot figurine he had lying around and a colored glass bauble of the sort we usually keep in the fish tank. Ken picked up the charcoal and pebbles from the pet store for us. The charcoal and rocks can be found in the aquarium aisle. We went with some natural looking rocks, but colored aquarium gravel would work as well if you want to add some color to your finished terrarium.

I still had a partial bag of potting soil lying around from the spring, so we had that covered. The jar we chose was smallish, so we didn’t need a whole lot of potting soil. Steve gathered the moss from our own front yard. Our front yard is always pretty shady, so moss grows there very easily. He also dug up a sprig of clover from the yard to see how it would fare in the terrarium with the moss.

After gathering all of the supplies and plants and bringing them together at the table, Steve was ready to assemble his very first terrarium.

Supplies: soil, charcoal, rocks, clean jar with lid, moss, and decorations

Supplies: soil, charcoal, rocks, clean jar with lid, moss, and decorations

Step one is to put down a layer of rocks in the bottom of the clean jar. The rock layer should be approximately an inch or so tall. If you have a particularly tall jar, you may want to add more rocks.

After the rock layer, comes the charcoal layer. The charcoal functions as a purifier for the closed terrarium system. Use enough charcoal to completely cover over the top of the rock layer.

The last layer is then the potting soil. How much potting soil to use depends somewhat on what plants will be in your terrarium. Moss doesn’t really have deep roots, so I recommended that Steve only use about an inch of soil.

Once the soil is all down, add the moss. All you need to do is place the moss on top of the soil and firmly press it down. Using the handle of the spoon, Steve also dug a little hole in part of the soil so he could plant his sprig of clover. Be sure that any plants you add are not touching the glass sides of the terrarium. Any condensation that forms on the glass could easily rot your poor plants if they are too close.

Press the moss down firmly.

Press the moss down firmly.

Once everything is planted, add any decorations you want. Steve’s poor parrot kept flopping over, so he had to nudge the dirt around it to prop it up.

Just about finished.

Just about finished.

After everything is in place, lightly mist the moss and screw the lid back onto the jar. Move the terrarium to a spot that isn’t too sunny as moss prefers some shade.

It's raining...

It's raining...

Steve and I are looking forward to making more terrariums. I have been on the look out for any cool looking glass containers I can find that would be appropriate.

Today at Walmart, I found a very neat glass container in the shape of a pumpkin. We’re looking forward to making a fall-themed terrarium complete with tiny pumpkin figures and perhaps a tiny scarecrow! The glass pumpkin is much larger than our pickle jar, so I think we’ll have room for a bit of fern or some other greenery as well as the moss.

Future terrarium project

Future terrarium project