You may have seen, earlier this term I posted my plans for a ‘Big Dig’ topic all about rocks, soil, minerals, excavations and dinosaurs. Some of the kids had been asking since September to cover dinosaurs and I felt it was time that we did just that.
I’d also felt as though, following the Victorian topic where we didn’t have a school trip, it was something I wanted to make a thoroughly hands-on wow topic. I mean, I always try to do this, but sometimes you know exactly how to capture children’s imagination… and sometimes, for all you try, it’s much more difficult.
It all began when I revealed that the British Archaeological Association had contacted me with a letter expressing that we may have a prehistoric remain with significant importance. I typed up a letter, created some aerial photographs and placed them in an old envelope I had saved (to complete the authentic look). Honestly, I think I’d have even fooled my eleven year-old self with just this. I just hope the BAA (and Richard Halsey in particular) don’t mind me borrowing their logo and pretending to be them.
The children had seen the excavation trench on the way into school on Tuesday morning (following the INSET on the Monday) and it was fair to say there was a little hum about this, though they weren’t sure exactly what it was all about. The letter, which I’d told the kids I’d received before the Easter break (and was therefore sworn to secrecy until we had decided how we were going to go about working alongside an active excavation site) swayed most of the kids into believing there might actually be a dinosaur buried in the playground.
More work had gone in over the Easter break and it was needed. There were still some skeptical children in the class, and I’m proud to say that! After all, I’m the same teacher who’d saved the world from a meteor and taught a magic way to multiply numbers… But this time, this time I had the answer! What if we found some real bones? Then that’s the proof.
Over the holidays, my partner and I set to making some salt-dough dinosaur bones. It was incredibly easy to make the dough – just 2 cups of flour, 1 of salt and 1 of water – and shaping was made a little bit easier when I drew some templates.
We spent a good couple of hours making different dinosaur bones, some of which were based on the skull of a T-Rex, and some which we decided were more like ‘generic dinosaur bones’; not entirely scientific but then I guess we don’t know all of the bones yet anyway!
Once we’d finished shaping them, they went in the oven at 120 C for 3 hours. Some of the thicker bones took slightly longer but, eventually, they all came out hard. That evening I went round to my parent’s house and managed to fool my Dad (who’s usually very savvy) and convinced him we’d found them by accident and collected them. This was a good omen!
Now, unfortunately, salt dough is still porous and so actually burying these wasn’t going to work. All that hard work wasted – there was no way the kids were going to get into the topic the same way if I just handed them a box of salt dough bones.
Luckily, B&Q stocked clear varnish so I could give all the bones a waterproof coating and bury them in the ground!
On the Saturday before we returned to school, I went and dug the excavation trench, put up the caution tape and gave the bones another layer of varnish just in case. Thankfully, despite the nice weather, I managed to get the bones in the ground with only one child spotting me – thankfully they believed me when I said I was just there to put up the ‘safety fence’.
When we returned, and had read the letter, the kids went out into the playground a group at a time and had a first hand opportunity to excavate some of the bones. They worked with ‘proper archaeological tools’ (which were pointing trowels which I’d begged and borrowed from my Dad) and were thoroughly enthused about having been allowed to ‘sneak into the trench’ whilst the real archaeologists weren’t on site. Even the ones who clearly knew I was behind it all seemed to have fun ensuring the others thoroughly believed: I could hear a chorus of “Why would Mr B waste his time burying these?” whenever anyone piped up with the suggestion it might be false.
I think my aim of enthusing and inspiring may just be working with this one!