Jim Hakala is hitting the road Friday with bins of captivating remnants of the ancient past. Among other things, he’s got fossilized fern, leaves, shark teeth, dinosaur bone, fish, petrified wood and a trilobite.
This time, he’s targeting fourth grade classrooms in mostly northeastern Colorado with 12 of his “fossil kits,” courtesy of the CU Museum of Natural History, along with a standards-based curriculum for use by teachers.
Hakala, senior educator at the museum, has made it his mission to ensure students across the state have access to the same high quality, hands-on learning materials that those on the Front Range do through area universities and museums.
The latest batch of kits and materials will be distributed to: Lochbuie Elementary School; Hoff Elementary School in Keenesburg; Platte Valley Elementary School in Kersey; Briggsdale Elementary School; Prairie Public School in New Raymer; Peetz Elementary School; Haxtun Elementary School; Fleming School; and Weldon Valley Elementary School in Weldona.
So far, nearly 25,000 fourth-graders have used the kits in classrooms in Delta, Fort Morgan, Durango, Trinidad, Greeley and elsewhere. More than 300 schools in 40 Colorado school districts are now using the kits to enhance teaching of this material since the program was launched in 2010. The best part? It’s free to participating schools.
“Once the teachers realized I was not kidding, they welcomed us,” said Hakala, who recently received special recognition and $1,000 for his work from CU-Boulder’s Office of Outreach and Engagement.
Danae Russo, a fourth grade teacher in Gilcrest, said seeing and touching real and reproduced artifacts helps her students better understand the content and increases their enthusiasm for learning.
“It is exciting to see their minds and attitudes open towards different cultures as they connect to the past,” Russo said. “The thought that was put into the lessons and materials of this kit is truly impressive.”
Russo said that without the program, she would never be able to offer the rich learning experience the archaeology kit provides.
To create the kits, museum education staff partnered with paleontology curators, collection managers and local teachers to develop and refine materials that contain standards-based curriculum and real and cast fossils. The materials are based on the cutting-edge research of Steve Lekson, professor of anthropology and the museum’s archaeology curator, whose work focuses on the ancient southwest.
The activities in the kits encourage students to describe, measure, predict and record fossils. Students can then compare their observations to the work of other students and CU-Boulder paleontologists.
Leveraging the popularity of the fossil kits and the loyal teacher network, Hakala also developed archaeology kits as part of the Colorado Archaeology in the Classroom project. The archaeology kits contain fire-starting tools, casts of stone projectile points and pottery fragments.
Funding permitting, it is the goal of the CU Museum of Natural History to provide these fossil and archeology kits to every school in the state. Learn more at this CU Museum of Natural History webpage. To donate to the Fossil Kits program, note “Fossil Kits” in the comments section on this donation webpage.
About the CU Museum of Natural History: The University of Colorado Museum of Natural History is located on Boulder’s main campus in the Henderson Building at 15th Street and Broadway. It is open every day and always free. For more information on the CU Museum of Natural History and upcoming programs, please visit http://cumuseum.colorado.edu or call 303-492-6892.