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The City Journals

Longview fourth graders use hammers, chisels to find trilobites

Jun 24, 2019 11:13AM ● By Julie Slama

Longview fourth graders point out a trilobite that teacher Mike Okumura uncovered while tapping shale with a hammer and chisel. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

After learning about rocks and minerals, Longview fourth graders were able to have a culminating activity: present what they learned in a trifold and actually use a hammer and chisel to crack shale in hopes of finding a trilobite fossil.

With the funding of a Murray Education Foundation grant, fourth-grade teacher Mike Okumura bought the shale from Delta, Utah, something he had done several years in his 10 years teaching at Liberty Elementary before transferring this year to Longview. 

However, it was a first for these students, who eagerly took safety goggles, chisels and hammers to start pounding away after instructions were given.

“We get to use hammers, which I’ve never gotten to do,” fourth-grader Aly Taylor said. 

Classmate Baylie Rockhill said it was her first time using tools as she anxiously looked for trilobites.

“We learned how long and how big they are and shared what we learned on our posters, but doing this is much more fun,” she said.

Fourth-grader Ella Philbrick was finding small trilobites in the shale as she took the hammer to carefully break layers off.

“This is actually pretty easy – and I just found a bigger one,” she said as she showed Okumura and her friends.

Okumura smiled. He’s heard this before, but it never gets old, he said.

“To have a book and read the text, it isn’t the same as for students to actually get out here and discover the trilobites themselves. Now, they’re able to relate what we studied, to what they discover," he said, adding that students know these trilobites were once sea creatures found in shallow waters that covered the entire west desert.

Longview fourth-grader Lily White shows off the trilobite she uncovered in the hands-on culminating activity. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Fourth-grader Britton Clark was excited to relate what he learned with the experience.

“It’s actually fun to find them in the shale,” he said. “I knew fossils are from a long time ago, but I didn’t think I’d actually get to be finding them and holding onto them.”

Okumura’s colleague, fourth-grade teacher Amy Patterson also appreciated the hands-on lesson in her first year of teaching fourth grade.

“I’m amazed these kids found them,” she said. “Some of them are so tiny. This is something that will help these students remember learning about fossils and trilobites.”

It’s likely as Okumura has had students return to him and ask if he’s still teaching about trilobites. Having each student go home with their own trilobite found that day in the shale also will ensure they’ll remember the lesson.

“It’s fun. It never gets old watching their excitement of discovering and learning,” Okumura said.

Fourth-grader Adrian Alikhanyan agreed.

“It’s like opening up a present,” Adrian said. “You don’t know when you find one how big or small it’s going to be, what it’s going to be like. I didn’t think it was going to be this much fun.”