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Better Science: 5 Excellent Ways to Examine Authentic Artifacts from the Natural History Museum of Utah


Staff member
Dec 13, 2023
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From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis
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Students love to examine artifacts and explore. Whether it is dinosaur bones, a phenomenon causing damage to valuable species of trees, or the relationships between predators and prey in the wild, first-hand explorations will engage students. We know this. Authentic experiences are now made possible with the valuable free resource Research Quest, from the Natural History Museum of Utah.

In this post, I’ll share an overview of the ResearchQuest resources for teachers and five ways you can use these now in your classroom.

The Natural History Museum of Utah sponsored this post. All opinions are my own.

ngss science free lessons

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Free Science Investigations for Middle School Students​

ResearchQuest is a free set of investigations designed for middle schoolers that allow them to examine artifacts, analyze data, and create their own conclusions. They become scientists doing work and drawing conclusions with real artifacts from a fantastic collection of resources.

Promoting Critical Thinking with Authentic Artifacts

When you sign up for your free teacher account, you will receive a special code allowing your students to access the investigations without creating their own accounts. And, there is more! Each investigation is designed to promote critical thinking through explorations, engaging activities, and a very cool research assistant notebook that you’ll want to print and give to your students before they embark on their journey of discovery. Digital options for Google Classrooms and other LMS are available, too.

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Each lesson plan includes standards, a downloadable 'research assistant' guide for students, assessments, and more.
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And the instructional guides for each investigation include not only NGSS science alignments but lesson plans, an overview of what students will do and assessments with rubrics for student self-assessments, and an overview of how to evaluate student critical thinking as your students are conducting their investigations. This is such a valuable resource for teachers!


Now that we’ve looked at the overview of these amazing free tools let’s dig into five ways you can use these resources now. There are more than this, so I recommend going to ResearchQuest and signing up for a free account to dig into the student investigations yourself.

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1 – Study Care of Our Environment by Understanding Natural Materials and Synthetic Materials

Students need to learn to draw their own conclusions in the critical area of caring for the environment. For this reason, I recommend digging into the “Artifact Investigation” and specifically the study of early ceramics and how they impacted the lives of those who used them. This unit not only brings in history but science, ecology, and an understanding of the impact on cultures. This is a great way to use the scientific method in an excellent cross-curricular study.

free lesson on synthetic materials ngss using the scientific method

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2 – Dinosaur Bones Investigation

The artifacts from the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry are an awesome way to study dinosaurs and more. I like the investigation where students look at fossilized bones and determine which dinosaur they belong to. Notice how students will “meet” a real paleontologist named Carrie, who studies dinosaur bones and leads them through the investigation.

dinsoar lab simulator scientific method project based learning for middle school

In addition to studying dinosaur bones, students can also dig into other investigations in this area that will teach:

  • How disruptions in ecosystems can cause population shifts.
  • How we can learn from the fossil record.
  • How various traits impacted dinosaur survivability by using a cool “Dino Lab Simulator” to build a dinosaur that can survive multiple challenges.
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3 – Understanding Forest Ecosystems

Some incredibly rich investigations are situated within the Uinta Mountains ecosystem investigations. You have four investigations to choose from where students will study change and stability in ecosystems. You can use one of them or all of them.

As a farm girl, I was taught to understand, conserve and care for our forest ecosystem on the farm. That is part of what I like about the forest ecosystem investigations, where students build their own digital food web model to understand the interdependent relationships in this ecosystem better.

Students can study far more in these investigations including:

  • Understanding the phenomenon that is at the heart of dying Lodgepole pine trees.
  • How museums gather their biological collections.
  • Ecosystem changes.
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4 – Bioscience Investigations: Predator and Prey

The Epic Bioscience Investigations are exciting because of both game-based digital manipulatives and a virtual dissection of a bat.

In the investigation “To Eat or Not to Eat,” students start by playing a game to determine “what physical cues predators use to make decisions on what to eat or not to eat.” They are also guided by an NHMU entomologist and some cool science-based comics.

Finally, students “use museum collections to compare select specimens as they look for evidence that may reveal which physical cues drive prey choice.”

What an awesome resource! Research Quest is such an incredible use of museum collections and will be very engaging for students.

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project based learning predator or prey using the scientific method

5 – BioScience Investigations: Bats

Another EPIC investigation that is great for classrooms allows for virtual bat dissections, but a choice in the bats students will compare to figure out how adaptable bat diets are in a changing ecosystem. This will allow for some fantastic classroom conversations.

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free bat dissection labs

I will admit that dissections were never my personal favorite, but as I sat down and worked with the “virtual dissection” tools, I think this would have been a good fit for me for many reasons when I was in middle school. As you proceed, it not only teaches you the tools that are used for dissection but how things are done in the dissection. I would like to do this on a large screen, and I think touch screens would make it even better.

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online bat dissection labs

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Hands-On Investigations with Research Quest

These ResearchQuest investigations are thought-provoking, cross-curricular, and NGSS-aligned and make an excellent addition to any middle school science curriculum. You can choose the investigations you want to use and link to them within your learning management system to manage your student’s progress.

ResearchQuest is a fantastic resource from the Natural History Museum of Utah. I recommend it for middle school teachers as an excellent supplementary material and lesson plans that will deeply engage students in learning and make it super simple to plan during the school year. Sign up today.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored blog post.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The post Better Science: 5 Excellent Ways to Examine Authentic Artifacts from the Natural History Museum of Utah appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!
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