1. owl pellets;
2. spray bottle of water;
3. paper plates (2 per student)
5. clean table space and desks;
6. an assistant – this can be a responsible student.
Step 1: Preparation
Sometimes when teaching I get one or two students who cannot be persuaded to participate. A suggestion is to have them research owls or birds of prey, skeletons, clothsmoths, rodents or any subject that is related. We are currently working to add related links on our home page to make it more informative.
Step 2: Setup
Divide the owl pellets on the appropriate number of plates per student. Spray them each at least twice so they can easily be torn apart by hand. Place one toothpick per plate, then put the 2nd plate on top upside down so as to hide the project. Keep the spray bottle handy for tough pellets.
Step 3: Basic Directions
Instruct students to work slowly to avoid breaking bones. Use one plate to work from, placing clean bones without fur on the second plate.
Step 4: Pass out the pellets
It is advisable to walk around respraying tough pellets. Some will need your help to get started so pull one or two bones out for them. Often there is so much excitement that remaining seated becomes a problem, so keep moving from student to student. One way to control younger children is to tell them not to worry about what kind of bones they find, but how many. Later you can work on bone identification.
Large bones such as skulls will easily be found. The owls typically crush the back part of the skull and you will find many of these fragments. Vertebrae and tail bones take a good deal of patience to find so younger students shouldn’t worry about them too much.
Step 5: Pass out bone charts
The bones can be placed on top of their respective images on the charts. Sharing of parts should be encouraged at this time, especially skulls and other major bones. Use common names for bones with the younger grades. To review, or for work on another day, names should be written on the plates. Plates can be stacked for storage.
Step 6: Advanced
Older students or skilled children for extra credit (or challenge) can go on to this step. Accurate bone placement should be stressed at this level. Finding bones of the same rodent is helpful. The vole is the primary type you’ll find. It is very difficult to find a complete rat or shrew skeleton. You can use a basic magnifying glass to help with details for bone identification. The final stage is to take tweezers and dip each bone in a pool of glue, then replace the pellets on the bone chart.