Man vs. Chicken 2.0

Last year about this time I wrote: Man vs. Chicken: A Battle in the Name of Science describing a laboratory investigation into the different types of fractures using chicken bones. As most teachers, from year-to-year I create new activities, get rid of the flops and tweak those that have been successful in the past. That’s just what I did with this investigation.

There were two major adjustments this year:

1.Instead of simply using cleaned, dried bones students used a combination of cleaned bones and wings with muscles (that’s the meat) and cartilage still intact. This allowed them to compare the differences between imitating fractures in both situations, and analyze which represents more true-to-life fracture events.

2. This is where the 2.0 comes in. In past years I have had student make sketches and observations based on the fractures they had created, and then answer discussion questions related bone structure and fractures. However, this year we went paperless. Most students carry with them a small computer in their pocket; smart phones complete with a video camera. So the assignment became filming their fracture events while narrating the process. There were 5 main idea they were to include in their video:

  • Describe how they will be fracturing the bone.
  • Predict what type of fracture they will produce.
  • Explain how this fracture may occur in real life.
  • Observe the fracture, describe and determine if their prediction was accurate.
  • Determine which bones best modeled accurate fractures, why?

These videos were then emailed to me, which I then compiled into a class video that was viewed as a class. Overall, the new tech version of the chicken bone lab was quite successful. Students seemed much more engaged and provided great narration and dialogue regarding the fractures that would not necessarily have occurred in the same fashion if they had been simply writing about what they had observed. Also, filming provided a role of cinematographer to students who were not interested in getting hands-on with the chicken bones. Finally, students love an opportunity they get to use their phones in class without having to sneak a text message from under the desk of a sweatshirt pocket.

Already looking to next year, I plan to delegate the video editing to students who are interested in creating videos. Here is the final video, enjoy.

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Man vs. Chicken: A Battle in the Name of Science

Preparation, preparation, preparation. That’s the key to good lesson. And that is why I sat down to a plate full of buffalo wings, tackled a pile of poultry parts, all in the name of science.

I had pile of probably 15 wings, it may not sound like much but they add up quickly. The first 10 went down easily, but then I started to feel like one of those guys from the Food Network. The ones who have to eat a 10 pound burger and a pound of fries in an hour to get a free t-shirt saying “I Beat the Mondo Burger” or something. For the last five wings I slowed down, but I pushed myself, dug deep. “It’s for science, for the students” was my mantra. Finally, the last wing finish, cleaned to the bone. I’ll admit it was a tough job, but I was willing to do it.

Now, some of you may ask: Is this science?

Heck Yeah!

The start of the second semester marks the beginning on my spring semester Honors Human Biology course. This year it is composed of 22 students, all with varying levels of excitement and engagement in the content, but none of them could expect what we would do in class Thursday, nor could they know earlier this week I put so much preparation into cooking, eating, and cleaning buffalo wings.

I have observed while teaching Human Biology student can easily make connections to the content because we are learning about their body and how it works. However, I’m no Doctor Frankenstein so its not so easy actually see human organs and tissues. We have to find alternatives to using human specimens to explore the concepts we are learning about. This is where the chicken wings come in.

As part of the unit on the skeletal system we spend time discussing different types of fractures, how they can occur, and what the healing process is for a bone. Though it would be truly a learning experience for students to participate in risky behavior like jumping from heights, slamming doors on their hands, or falling off of bikes or ATVs; I’m sure parents would not approve of, or enjoy having to pick their kids up at the hospital after getting casts. And I know Elwood saying to his mom: “But look, its a spiral fracture, see…!” or “I worked so hard Mom, I was the only one in class to get a compound fracture,” would certainly not let me off the hook for promoting such behavior.

So, instead we suited up. Protective eye gear on, nitrile gloves on,  assorted pliers, wrenches, bricks and  tin snips in hand.

Using this variety of tools the students manipulated how they twisted, bent, or crushed the bone, making a hypothesis about what type of fracture will result. They then sketch, analyze and compare the different types of fractures.

3 years ago I designed this lab using chicken bones to model how different fractures occur, what they look like, and how they differ from each other. It went over with great success. Who knew destruction could be such a great learning experience. My students continue to thoroughly enjoy it. So, each year since I have been tweaking and conducting this lab as a way to understand why different fractures occur, and what they look like.

Now, believe me, not all labs and activities can have such “full-filling” or tasty preparation, but the time put into such hands on, application based,  inquiry activities is well worth it, and the benefit surely outweighs the time commitment. I know there is some cliche out there that life is 80% preparation, 20% action or something like that; the same can be said about teaching. Putting the time into preparing a well designed, interactive and engaging learning experience is key to increasing the successful learning of students.