Homeschooling at the Museum

My older kids are doing school at home through Utah Connections Academy this year.  We reached the decision that I needed some extra help guiding them, and so far we have been happy with their high school program.  We especially like the accessibility of the teachers.  They had taken other online classes before, and the teachers had proved very slow to respond to any questions — this has not been the case through the Academy.  When the Academy organized a field trip to the new Utah Museum of Natural History, we were excited to attend.  We were able to meet some of the kids’ teachers in person, and to visit this beautiful new museum.

The Utah Museum of Natural History has been open a little more than a month.  It is built on the side of a hill next to Red Butte Gardens at the University of Utah, and is designed to blend into the hillside and the landscape.  Even from the outside, it is a very striking building.  The actual exhibit space inside is much smaller, however, and we easily explored it in two hours.  Although some of the exhibits were very crowded–this was a school field trip after all–we were able to give some good attention to the exhibits that interested us.

We started out on the the first exhibit floor looking at fossils found in the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument.  We were excited to see the turtle shells, and will definitely be giving fossil hunting more attention next time we go to Escalante.  So far, we have only found fossil oyster shells in our visits there.  One of the displays was a glass floor over dinosaur bones as they would perhaps have been found at an actual fossil dig.  The metal bars holding up the glass floor further lent to the illusion, as paleontologists lay out a grid over their digs to aid in describing location and distribution of their finds.

The next exhibit which caught our interest was about the Cleveland Lloyd quarry.  Years ago, when Brett was about 6, we visited the Cleveland Lloyd quarry and were able to visit with two students studying there.  They explained the predominance of allosaur bones found at the quarry, and some theories about why there were so many predators and so few herbivores.  This display discussed some other theories, and then allowed us to vote by placing a penny in a tube to show our vote.  Three of us voted for “Stuck in the Mud”, while Lucy decided she liked the “Poison” theory.

On the next floor of the museum, a large plant collection is on display in binders.  Eden and I noticed how specifically the original location of the plants were described.  For example, a plant was found “At the head of Little Cottonwood Canyon, in Albion Basin, on south slope above Cecret Lake, near buried water tank.”  We will work hard to make our descriptions that carefully if we are able to make a plant collection this year.  While we usually take photos, not specimens, that might be an interesting project for the coming hiking year.

Max and Lulu also enjoyed the display which explained how a marsh helps in cleaning salt water.

The museum has a living collection of Triops, small aquatic creatures that live in desert potholes.  We will definitely look for these in tinajes as we hike this year.  They move more quickly than you would expect, and might perhaps be mistaken for a tadpole, but on second thought look more like a soft shell horseshoe crab.

The top floor of the museum is dedicated to Native Voices, and has displays of both ancient and modern Native American products.

An excellent reason for us to visit museums as homeschoolers is that it give us ideas for more areas to study, or ways to study better.  In this trip, we found many things to go home and think about some more:  fossil hunting in Escalante and Fossil Butte, Wyoming (as recommended by the science teacher), plant collections, Triops, and a visit to Clay Canyon to collect varicite.  I highly recommend visiting even small, local museums for this reason.

Have you visited a museum recently?  Making such visits a regular part of your curriculum is one of the easiest ways I know to increase your love of learning.

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