Thursday, February 6, 2014

Homeschool Science: The Kids Re-Articulated a Chicken Skeleton

Meet Bocky:

For their Science Fair these young ones, interested in paleontology and chickens and lovers of gigantic, complicated, hands-on projects, decided to re-articulate a chicken skeleton. It WAS a gigantic, complicated project, and required a lot more parental assistance than you'd want in a school kid's Science Fair project, but we homeschoolers tend to make of things what we want, and we wanted this big, unwieldy, hands-on, fabulously educational project, and if that meant that the daddy had to get his hands dirty, too, then so be it.

Next time we do a project like this, I will use the university library to interlibrary loan a veterinary manual, because although we basically knew what went where, and we had a few diagrams to help us, there were a LOT of bones to sort through!

Spinal cord and ribs were pretty easy (although figuring out how they were ordered was a totally different matter)--

--but chickens have more long bones than we do, and their wrist bones and finger bones look weird, and yeah, we absolutely had leftover pieces when we were finished:

 But never you mind about that, because Bocky (yes, the children named their chicken skeleton, sigh...) came together just fine regardless:

You can see where Matt wired the spinal column, which was a suggestion from the only other person in the known universe to ever re-articulate a chicken skeleton for fun, but for everything else he used hot glue. LOTS of hot glue.

It was a big challenge for the kids to not pull that wishbone! I'm pretty proud of them for showing the self-restraint necessary there. 

The beak dissolved in our lye solution, but the claws didn't. Huh!

Although this project wasn't terribly well-suited to the capabilities and attention spans of a seven- and nine-year-old, I'm still really glad that we did it. The kids got to see what a genuinely difficult, real-life challenge looks like, one without one set answer and varies avenues of solutions, not all of which pan out. We tried several methods of obtaining a chicken carcass before we finally found one. We tried several ways to make certain bones fit onto the skeleton, and still weren't sure that we'd settled on the correct one.

The kids also learned a LOT about anatomy, and a lot about paleontology, too, I think. In her presentation, Will compared the work that they'd done with the work that paleontologists do, and commented that paleontology, too, must be frustrating sometimes, but it must feel great to complete a dinosaur skeleton. In Syd's presentation, she rattled off a bunch of human bones and pointed to their locations on their plaster of Paris human skeleton as if it was no big feat--she'd been thinking about those bones and where they go on people and chickens for ages by then!

I learned that projects like this are best done in the summer or fall, and in the future, if necessary, I will put the kids off until then. I was NOT happy buying a random frozen chicken carcass from an international grocery, after our attempts to source one locally from several places came up totally empty. I really wanted a local chicken who had lived a happy life, but I just had no idea we'd not be able to get one at this time of year. I feel a pull, sometimes, between what I want to express about my own ethics and the academic enrichment that I want to give the kids--I don't want to teach the children to kill on purpose, but I want Will to have the insect collection that she wants. I don't want to teach the children that it's okay to buy whatever dead animal that they want from whatever place is selling it, without caring how that animal was treated when it was alive, but I want them to have the carcass that they want to dissect. How does one raise a future entomologist without letting her make an insect collection? How does one raise a future doctor without letting her dissect? And of course, how does one raise a human to be compassionate towards animals while letting her kill bugs and dissect factory-farmed chicken carcasses?

From now on, I figure, I let them do what they want to do, but only in the most humane way to do it. The kid wants a bug collection? I guess that's why I have seven university library books on entomology on my bookshelf right now, trying to figure out which type of killing jar works the quickest. The kid wants to dissect a rabbit next (because she does)? Fine, but we're waiting until the fall, when we can get a nice meat rabbit carcass from a local farm that we know about. 

It may take me that long, anyway, to find and decipher a veterinary textbook on rabbits. 


Tina said...

Such a good Mama!

That skeleton is awesome. Great family project!

Jennifer said...

I love your creativity with this project! Who would've thought??? And it's great that the whole family could learn from it.

julie said...

We will definitely be rearticulating more skeletons in the future, and I recently learned that I know someone who knows someone who does taxidermy as a hobby. We could be in for a VERY big adventure!

Spencer Godwin said...

Approximately how long did this whole process take you? I'm thinking of re-articulating a chicken skeleton as part of an art project for (high) school.

julie said...

You could probably do the actual rearticulation over the course of one LONG afternoon/evening, if you leave yourself enough time to figure out how to deal with the fiddly bits, like wiring the spinal cord and getting the darn thing to stand up.

As far as obtaining the actual bones, we first boiled that chicken carcass for probably an entire day to get all the meat off of it, then soaked it in a mild bleach solution--overnight first, then longer, checking on it regularly.

If you've got access to a library or Amazon, however, there is actually a VERY weird book that a friend found for me at a library book sale, a few months after this project. It's called Make Your Own Dinosaur out of Chicken Bones, and it also goes over how to clean and prep the bones, using a different method than I did.


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