Thursday, October 13, 2011

Skeleton Models

Originally, we were going to do an activity with seed dispersal this week, but we're going to table that until next week and work on a skeleton activity instead.  We are going to keep our seed samples in a gallon size plastic bag in the fridge (to prevent mold) and next week we will be joined by my friend, plant goddess extraordinaire, Amy, and her son.  In the meantime, let's delve into skeletons!

I probably should have started this out by saying that I love Halloween.  Seriously love it.  And I think its a genetic trait passed on from my mother.  For the last 10 years or so she lived out in the country and  received maybe 10 trick-or-treaters total in all that time but that didn't stop her from coming up with wonderful, zany and original costumes each year.  We also are currently living out in the country and count a grand total of zero Halloween night visitors over the last 7 years, not that it has stopped me either.  

The genesis of this activity idea occurred earlier this week while I was wandering the Halloween aisle at Target, looking for a giant spider for our faux web.  (Incidentally, I found one and love it, but the girls are not so thrilled by it...)  In my browsing, I kept noticing example after example of skeletons, some more accurate than others and it got me thinking about both skeletons and anatomical models.  In this activity, we will compare several skeleton models and identify which model we think is most accurate and in the process talk about both the role of the skeleton and how models are useful.  It will also utilize math skills (counting) so the activity itself may be better suited to children that have a better grasp of numbers but younger kids can get the gist of the idea and there are many extension ideas that would definitely work with the younger set.

Materials Needed:
  • 3 skeleton models (we used a "stretchy skeleton" that I bought at Target (8 for $1), a chocolate skeleton lollipop and a miniature skeleton model that I had found a while ago at a deep discount.  The nice thing about this activity is that you really could use anything from stickers to coloring sheets to plastic Halloween decorations.)
  • science journal
  • pencil
  • crayons

Start by just observing the three skeletons and talking a bit about both the role of skeletons in the body (structure, movement and protection) and about what models are in general.  The girls have been busy at school working on a continent map so we were able to use that as an example of a model as well as a model train that is a permanent exhibit at one of our local malls.  I also emphasized that models are often used to teach people about things that are not easily seen maybe because they are too big (maps) or maybe hidden by something (like bones are covered by muscles and skin).  Ask your child to make a prediction about which of the models they thought was the best at teaching about skeletons and talk about how you can compare them.

The next part of the activity involves using some math skills to count the bones that they can see are in each skeleton.  Help the child count the bones in each model and then record your findings.  The girls drew (using that word very loosely here) a picture of each skeleton in their science journal and then put the number of bones next to their picture.  If you are not using a science journal, you could make a basic data table with the name of the type of skeleton and then the number of bones next to each name.  

Once all of the bones have been counted, ask them again which skeleton model they think is the most accurate and the best at teaching about skeletons.  Have them justify their answer, i.e. don't let them just say, "the stretchy one", instead they should say, "the stretchy one because..."

And, if one of your skeletons happens to be edible (hooray!), then by all means let them partake!  We made a game out of eating the skeleton by naming the different parts we were eating, i.e., "I'm eating the skull", "Now I'm eating the humerus".

Science Talk
The human skeleton consists of roughly 206 bones including both large ones that were shown on our model, like the femur which is the longest bone in the body, to tiny ones like the three located in our inner ear that help us both with hearing and stability.  As mentioned earlier, the skeleton itself serves three major functions, including structure, movement and protection.  Our bones create an underlying structure for our body, without which we would all be blobs.  In addition, the bones are attachment sites for muscles and ligaments which work to allow us to move at the many joints in our body.  Finally, the skeleton serves as protection for some of our soft inner organs - the skull protects the brain, the sternum protects the heart and the ribs protect our lungs and other organs in our chest cavity.   Another interesting fact is that human babies are born with more than 206 bones, some of which will later fuse together.  So much to learn from one of the ubiquitous signs of Halloween!

Extension Activities:
There are so, so many things that you can do with skeletons, including:
  • Literature Connection: One book that we really like is the Bones book by Stephen Krensky.  In very simple language it talks about the different functions of the skeleton. It also shows pictures of different types of skeletons, including small animals like frogs and big animals like elephants, which the girls were fascinated by.  The other book we used as a reference is "How it Works: The Human Body" by Kate Barnes, which is a bit older but worked for our purposes.
  • Art: One thing you could do is have your child lay down on a large white sheet of paper and draw around their outline.  Once the outline is done, you could draw in the outlines of the bones and, for the older kids, label them with their names.  I also found a coloring book on Amazon (My First Human Body Book) that looks really interesting to me. It's fairly inexpensive with line drawings of human body parts that kids can color.  I think my older one would really enjoy it, although I understand that the pictures do not include names of bones or other body parts.
  • Music and Entertainment: There is, of course, the classic children's song, "Dem Bones" that is based on an African American spiritual.  I found a version, called the "Skeleton Dance", on YouTube that includes dance moves so kids can easily move along with it.  The only problem I have with this song is that it doesn't use any proper names of the bones, i.e. the femur is called the "thigh bone", but its still fun, especially for younger kids.  A song that was developed by a teacher that uses the correct terminology and is sung to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know it" is the Bone Bounce Song (this link opens a pdf with the lyrics to the song).  Additionally, a few years ago on Hannah Montana there was a segment in which she made up the Bone Dance to learn the names of the bones in order to pass a test.  (No, my girls are not into Hannah Montana.  Yet.)
Science Process Skills Used In This Activity:

Observing Communicating Classifying Measuring Inferring Predicting

Visit the science process skills page for more information on the different skills.

I hope you enjoy this activity!   If you try it, please leave me a comment to let me know how it goes! Also, I'd love if you'd share any ideas for extensions for this project in the comments section.  Thanks! :)

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