Putnam ‘detectives’ study fossils

The exercise was intended to teach Putnam Elementary School fourth-graders about being paleontologists, but the small magnifying glasses reminded at least one student of another profession.

“I like pretending to be a detective,” said Lily Constable.

Indeed, the children in Suzannah Butler’s science classes on Tuesday were using the magnifiers to examine pieces of river gravel they plucked from large trays for evidence – evidence of the fossilized remains of plants and marine animals, rather than clues to solve a crime. It was part of a week-long exercise to get them ready for a unit on sedimentary rocks, fossils and related topics led by professors at Marietta College.

“We’re studying how those fossils tell us about the past, the animals and what they ate,” Butler said.

The students worked in teams, sorting through boxes of river gravel divided into grids similar to an actual paleontological dig. They used water and brushes to remove sediment from the rocks, then examined the items as a group to decide whether it was fossil.

“If we saw something that looked like a fossil, we would document it and then share it and see if it was a fossil or not,” said fourth-grader Jeremiah Fout.

“If somebody said no, we’d put it back,” classmate Andrew Smith said. “If everybody said yes, we put it in the box.”

Today, the class will further document their specimens and what they know about them.

“We’re going to make educated guesses … on what you may have in front of you,” Butler said.

On Thursday, they will do research in books and on the Internet to confirm what they have.

Then, the fossils will be divided among the students so each can take one home.