Skull in the Rock & Their Skeletons Speak
The Skull in the Rock
- Author-Scientist Model as Mentor Text. Aronson and Walker co-wrote their books with the scientist who was doing the primary research on Sediba and Kennewick Man. Since each book was sent to print, new research discoveries have been released for both research endeavors. In an interdisciplinary language arts-science research project, have students read one of the books. Next, have them explore some of the latest research that did not have a chance to get incorporated into the texts (see Further Explorations). Locate several scientists working locally in your area. They might have an affiliation with a research organization, hospital, university, a state agency, or a manufacturing company. Have teams of students working with teams of researchers over the course of a trimester, semester, or year, documenting their research. To do so, students will have to conduct background research to get “up to speed.” At the end of the designated period of time, have each team of students write a digital magazine or create a video or podcast to share with the community. If it’s possible to pair your teams of students and scientists with teams of undergraduates studying in the same field, you will have an even richer research partnership. For a less ambitious (and time-consuming!) venture, invite a panel of local scientists to come and talk about their work, and have students work in teams to write share the research with the broader community in some capacity, such as a story on the school webpage or a podcast recording.
- Nonfiction as “Mentor” for Next Generation Science Standards. The draft of the Next Generation Science Standards will be released this fall. The big ideas in the National Research Council’s (NRC) Framework, the foundational document for the new standards, “describes a vision of what it means to be proficient in science; it rests on a view of science as both a body of knowledge and an evidence-based, model and theory building enterprise that continually extends, refines, and revises knowledge” (Achieve, Inc., 2012). To do this, three “dimensions” will be “combined to form each standard:” Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. In your middle grade science class, have students read one or both books at the beginning of the school year, to serve as a mentor, or model, of the three dimensions that are so essential to the new science standards. How do Lee Berger and Doug Owsley serve as mentor scientists? How do Marc Aronson and Sally Walker capture the practices and concepts at work and the core facts of the discipline that the scientists draw upon? You might want to have students in trios, in which each member is reading the text tracking a different dimension and how it is made manifest by the writing. Use this exploration as the catalyst for students’ yearlong study of science in which they are using the practices of science to identify and use crosscutting concepts, drawing upon their ever-increasing body of disciplinary core ideas.
- Kids as Catalysts. Oddly enough, in both books, young people initially discovered the skeletal remains. In 1996, Will Thomas, age 20, and Dave Deacy, 19, discovered the 9,400-year-old Kennewick Man while getting ready to watch a boat race on the Columbia River. In 2008, Matthew Berger was only nine when he discovered the thin yellow bone that turned out to be the clavicle of a boy who lived approximately 1.9 million years ago. Is this just luck or chance? Author Marc Aronson in Skull in the Rock says that “[s]ometimes it is hardest to see the things that are right before your eyes.” He tells his readers that Lee Berger, who shared his research on sediba with scientists across the globe, “is passing the baton-encouraging you to train your eyes, to walk the land, to learn to see the anomaly-to make the next key discovery.” What role do your students think they have in “real” science? What can they do to make a difference in your community? What local research can you take part in, even if it is unconnected to forensic anthropology?
- Mapping Human Pre-History. What does it mean to be a human being? Have your students explore this question before reading one or both of the above books, comparing and contrasting their answers. Next, have them students explore the digital resources of the Smithsonian Institute’s online exhibit “What Does It Mean to be Human?” What does the human family tree look like? What does Australopithecus Sediba at 1.9 million years old have in common with Kennewick Man, the oldest complete skeleton found to date in North America, at a mere 9,400 years old? What do we? Using the Smithsonian resources, in particular the timeline of Homo Erectus, the August 2011 National Geographic digital resources (see Further Explorations below), in particular the map of human origins, the “Braided Stream” chart from Skull in the Rock, as well as other books and articles, have students create their own mural of what the scientific community thinks they know about the timeline of human origins. Can they create interactive components of the timeline to highlight the different changes that took place in different regions? What species lived concurrently? You might want to look into what databases your state pays for, that you have access to through your state, local, or school library system webpages. Be sure to work with your school librarian on this, to locate up-to-date research from all parts of the globe. There are tremendous interactive resources at the Smithsonian site, for exploring 3-D images of artifacts, bones, skulls, etc..
- Research at What Price? Their Skeletons Speak details the long protracted legal battle over the right to research Kennewick Man. Who “owns” Kennewick Man or any other skeleton that that predates this century? Who should grant permission for such explorations? What are the benefits of the research? What are the drawbacks? Explore other contemporary explorations of skeletal remains, including the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan (see Further Explorations). Of particular interest, of course, are such explorations in your area.
- Live Research Discussion. The region in South Africa where Dr. Lee Berger has been doing his research has long been called “The Cradle of Humankind.” It was recently designated a World Heritage Site. The South African government, with cooperation from museums around the world, including the United States, is building a laboratory at Malapa, where research will be broadcasted live around the world. What are the some of the possible benefits and drawbacks of live research? What other scientists do their work live? Who should decide what research is important enough to be made accessible to anyone in the world?
- Forensic Anthropology Near You. What forensic research is being done where you live? Who are the Lee Bergers and Douglas Owsleys of your state? Have students read one or both of these books, or in combination with others (see Further Explorations below). Next, contact your local university to see who is conducting research, and have him/her come in to speak to your classes. Have your students write nonfiction picture books (print or digital) on this local forensic research for students in the intermediate grades of your district.
- Duet Exploration of Kennewick Man. In a previous entry on Teaching with Text Sets, we introduced the Duet Model, in which two books are paired together because of shared content, format or genre. In 2011, Katherine Kirkpatrick wrote Mysterious Bones: The Story of Kennewick Man, a sixty-page picture book illustrated by Emma Stevenson. Have student start with the shorter text, and then move on to Walker & Owsley’s 2012 book. How did the authors represent the subject in similar ways? What information was missing from one book, and why? How might have co-authoring the book with Doug Owsley influenced how Sally Walker wrote her book? Finally, how do both books fit into the timeline of research on Kennewick Man that began with is discovery in the mid-1990s? Compare the new ideas represented in both books to the previous beliefs originating in research conducted in the late 1990s through the early 2000s. What does this say about the nature of scientific research? To start this comparison and contrast of changing research over time, you might want to begin with the reconstruction of Kennewick Man done in 1998 with the one completed in 2012.
- Author Study. Both Aronson and Walker have a rich collection of books that they have authored for middle grade readers. Complete an author study in class of one or both authors. There are several ways to accomplish this. You can have two or three groups for each author, and allow students to select individual titles that they compare and contrast together. Or, you could conduct one author study in which small groups become experts on one book and then they come together in a jigsaw group to start comparing and contrast the author’s work. The goal would be to have the widest range of books represented. Have students examine the content of each author’s work, and the similarities and differences within the range. How does this content relate to each author’s professional and academic background? Have students also explore the authors’ research methods, writing style and the internal organization of texts (structure, format) across the body of work.
- This book takes you through the four seasons, focusing on a different citizen science project in each.
- This Eyewitness picture book provides a survey, or overview, of forensic science.
- These two books discuss research done on human remains found under the ash from Mt. Vesuvius’s explosion in AD 79 as well as discoveries made around the world from bodies preserved under ice.
- Freedman explores different theories that attempt to identify the first inhabitants of North America.
- This picture book provides a survey of how bones work in humans and animals, allowing readers to explore the similarities and differences in construction among humans, birds, animals, and fish.
- This recently published nonfiction picture book on Kennewick Man was named an Outstanding Social Studies Trade Book for 2011.
- This survey book provides great details on the latest discoveries in hominin research, excluding, of course, discoveries made since the book went to press.
- This specialized nonfiction explores the discovery in 1974 of the skeleton known as Lucy. Lucy’s discovery provided scientists with evidence that hominids began walking upright before they developed larger brains and established a new category of hominid.
- Walker’s previous work closely examines interdisciplinary research conducted in the Chesapeake Region, and is tied in to an exhibit at the Natural History Museum of the Smithsonian Institute.
About Mary Ann Cappiello
Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.
SLJ Blog Network