Key takeaways

Museum educator Jim Hakala is on a mission to bring fossils and ancient artifacts to every Colorado fourth grader, especially those with limited access to educational resources. 

The CU Museum of Natural History’s “unit in a box” outreach program serves more than 32,000 fourth graders statewide.

 This program is one of the many educational programs offered through the CU Museum of Natural History to schools, children and families.

Originally published Nov. 26, 2018

If Jim Hakala had his way, every fourth grader in Colorado would be able to hold a piece of ancient history.

The senior educator at the CU Museum of Natural History is more than halfway to this goal, thanks to museum kits filled with fossils or ancient artifacts that he has delivered to hundreds of schools in 41 Colorado counties.

This labor of love began in 2010, when Hakala worked with paleontologists and local teachers to create a “unit in a box” filled with fossilized cave bear and shark teeth, dinosaur bone, petrified wood and other fossils as well as lesson plans. The outreach program has since expanded to include archaeology and mammal kits.

“It just seemed like a no brainer to me to bring these resources to communities that were looking for ways to teach about fossils and Colorado’s natural history and didn’t have access to high-quality, hands-on science materials,” said Hakala, who has worked at the museum for nearly 20 years.

Hakala has personally delivered free fossil kits and teacher training to about 450 schools in 77 school districts, which are being used by more than 32,000 fourth graders and 4,000 seventh graders. The program is funded through the Office for Outreach and Engagement and the museum.

Myra Hanson, a teacher in Wiggins, Colorado, said these kits have brought the material to life for students without access to supplemental educational resources.

“It really transformed my teaching,“ Hanson said. “I don’t have to describe the fossils or show a video. The kids can see for themselves the difference between the fossils, they can feel the edges of the fossils and something that is thousands or millions of years old has real meaning for them.”

The museum also offers archaeology kits filled with ancient historical artifacts that are free to schools, and natural history kits that can be rented. Hakala is creating mammal kits filled with skins, skulls and other specimens.

“I love what I am doing,” he said. “I like that I can make these connections, and that a fourth grader can go, ‘Wow, I understand this!’”

Interested in learning more about how CU Boulder outreach programs are impacting Colorado? Follow @CUOutreach on Facebook and Twitter, or visit this interactive map to find programs and events across the state.

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