A class that teaches high school students how to dissect/reconstruct Colorado wildlife in a classroom environment is getting two thumbs up from Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 students and parents.
Titled STEM-ulating Colorado Wildlife Skeletons, the class encourages students to salvage the skeletons of dead animals and create portable skeleton kits for assembly on custom-built stands. Created by Cheyenne Mountain High School science teacher Tim Lundt, the class provides hands-on animal dissection and reconstruction experience.
By reconstructing the skeletons of Colorado big game animals (black bear, cow elk, mountain lion and pronghorn), students learn to identify Colorado wildlife, differences between animals and their adaptations to their environment.
Lundt taught a similar class in Alaska and tailored that curriculum to reflect Colorado wildlife rules and regulations. At CMHS, students salvage the skeletons of animals put down by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, killed by vehicles or donated by hunters.
“This class was a huge success in Alaska and I was hoping it would be at CMHS. To my delight, the 50 students in the two classes seem to be enjoying it,” Lundt said.
The school’s curriculum committee first had to approve of Lundts’ idea. Next, grant proposals submitted to Toshiba America Foundation and the school district won awards in the amounts of $5,000 and $1,425, providing needed funding.
The classes were first offered this fall, utilizing mountain lion and bear carcasses donated by Lundt and CPW, respectively.
“The mountain lion was a roadkill and the black bear had to be put down for eating livestock. By the time we obtained both animals, the meat wasn’t fit for consumption and had to be disposed of. The meat from the pronghorn antelope and cow elk were processed for consumption by hunters before donating the skeletons to the class,” Lundt said.
Salvaging bones from an animal is a multistep process, he explained. First, welders from the school district welders build stands on which the skeletons are displayed. This is followed by articulating the skeleton with hot glue and rubber bands.
Each skeleton kit provides instructions on how to assemble the stand and articulate the skeletons used to teach students the names of bones, animal variations and environment adaptations.
“These skeleton kits are unique since they can be reassembled multiple times over many years,” Lundt said.
It takes, on average, about 2-4 class periods to skin and remove the flesh from the animals’ bones. Once this is accomplished, students spend three days boiling the bones and two class periods to remove leftover bone tissue.
Students whiten the bones with hydrogen peroxide and paint each bone with epoxy glue.
From these classes, students familiarize themselves with Colorado wildlife and earn an understanding of the state’s hunting regulations and requirements.
“Anytime you can provide hands-on experiences with real-life applications, students will learn better and it doesn’t matter what level the student is at,” Lundt said.
“I know students coming out of my class will remember the names of the bones, skeletal adaptations to their environment and differences between omnivores, carnivores and herbivores better than students just looking at pictures or trying to memorizing names.”
Obtaining animals in good condition from which portable skeletons can be created is an obstacle, Lundt said. “You don’t know when or what animals you may get and you have to be ready when one is available,” he said.
Deciding where to boil the animals’ flesh also was a concern, Lundt said. “Most were done in pots under the chemical fume hoods in the science classes and others were boiled in a 30-gallon barrel at my house,” he said.
Lundt believes no other high school in the country offers classes such as these. “As far as I know, I am the only teacher in the U.S. doing this kind of project,” he said.
Except for a few skeptics, folks have responded favorably to the class. Lundt said he hopes that students who have never experienced fishing or hunting will consider doing so in the future. This class helps protect animals and their habitat for future generations.
“Many students have never hunted or dissected animals. Once they get used to the unique smells, all of them seem to enjoy the class. Parents mention my class has brought up some interesting conversations at the dinner table,” Lundt said.
“I hope some of my students further their education in a field related to wildlife biology. Lastly, the creation of the portable skeletons will be used by future classes or loaned to other schools for many years in hope they will increase students’ interests in science.”