Making Learning Relevant: Fossils


For the next few weeks our class will be learning about fossils – the different types of fossils, how fossils are made, and why fossils are important.

Fossils are old – often REALLY old.  Fossils are rare (especially in our Granite State of New Hampshire).  Fossils are remains of dead plants and animals, or evidence of dead plants and animals.  Who wants to learn about really old dead things?  Why learn about really old dead things?

We began our unit with a trash bag.  I rummaged through a trash bag and pulled out different items.  After examining these items, it only took a few educated guesses to discover the owner of this trash bag – our classroom’s valued paraprofessional, Mrs. Duffy.  Why go through someone’s trash?  Because someone’s trash can give us clues about what that person’s life is like.


Why learn about fossils?  Because fossils can give us clues about what earth’s life was like MANY years ago – how cool is that?  Learning about fossils is not only like solving mysteries, but it easily connects to the process of scientific inquiry – something our youth definitely needs experience with.

When someone is studying any topic, if the topic is relevant to their life, they are bound to be more interested.  So how do we make studying fossils relevant, especially in our fossil-starved State of New Hampshire?

  1. By investigating current events
  2. By examining how it relates to our lives
  3. By acting out the process of a paleontologist


Today our students read an article and watched a video about an adult wooly mammoth that was discovered by Michigan farmers…this past weekend!  This investigation of a current event alone inspired students to want to go and dig in their backyard.

For the last couple of years students at our school lobbied (unfortunately unsuccessfully) to have an official state fossil declared.  They researched what types of fossils were discovered in our own state, learning how fossils related to our local lives – it was an incredible learning experience.  This year I have contacted a UNH and Dartmouth professor regarding a fossil we have in our class – they are very intrigued and have already provided some feedback (see below).  We have a large, real life example in our classroom!


In a couple of weeks our class will be taking a short walk behind our school to “dig for fossils.”  Although we will likely not find any authentic fossils, students will discover something – and participate in the process of how to excavate and study fossils.

Making learning relevant is one very effective way we here at Bradford strive to help make our students’ education engaging and worthwhile.  I certainly hope your child finds our fossil unit to be both an exciting and valuable experience.


Classroom Fossil


Donated by Anonymous Community Member

Professors’ Comments on our Classroom Fossil:

“The fossil seems somewhat vertebral, or even the end of a long bone.  My first guess was that is was from a whale, but really not certain.  I note that it seems imbedded in a hard rock matrix.  Therefore, geologically quite old, and probably not from around here.  Which then begs the question – something from quite distant in time.”

– Professor Gary Johnson, Dartmouth

“Definitely fossil bone which makes it a lot more interesting than most of what passes through my email box from state residents! I agree with Gary that my first guess would be whale or at least large mammal (bones look hollow). Size looks like it could be a dinosaur but bone texture looks more mammal.”

– Professor Will Clyde, UNH

The Voters Have Spoken!


Our third grade classes started off the year learning about citizenship, and what it means to be a good citizen.  We also discussed our rights and responsibilities as American citizens.  We focused on one major right and responsibility, voting, and our students voted to participate in a community service project.


One book we read, “Grace for President” by Kelly DiPucchio, talked about a class voting for a class president and how they used the electoral college as their format.  Each student in our classes was a representative of a state or multiple states, and voted between two admirable service projects: helping to collect or donate items to a local food pantry or the Concord – Merrimack County SPCA.  The SPCA won by a landslide!  I made sure to commend the students that voted to help out the food pantry, and for caring for those who need help to get the food they need.  Our school does help out a local food pantry, so they will be able to participate in that service project if they wish in the near future.

We look forward to seeing the energy and hard work we KNOW our students will put into getting the word out and collecting donations for this organization.

The Official Results (Blue: SPCA, Red: Food Pantry):


The Ultimate Solar System Project


One of my favorite third grade traditions at Bradford Elementary is to learn about outer space.  Every year something exciting is happening in the world of astronomy.  Very recently the New Horizons spacecraft reached the vicinity of Pluto after nine and a half years!  It has taken stunning photos, and revealed information, particularly of the geography of Pluto, that mankind never knew of.  How awesome is that?!


Another cool aspect of our astronomy unit is that we celebrate all of our learning and hard work on projects by spending 24 hours together – 24 HOURS OF SPACE!!!  A trip to the planetarium, crafts and games at the school, a potluck dinner, stargazing outside, and then a kid’s space movie and sleepover inside is an out-of-this-world experience.

The students and I will highly anticipate this event, but until that day draws near, I may share from time to time on this blog outer space-related material.  Like tonight!  Recently some friends decided that they should create an ACCURATE scale of the solar system.  Using their cars, GPS, ingenuity and creativity they did it!  ENJOY the two videos below of the creation of the ultimate solar system project!

Encourage: A Letter to my Students’ Families


According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of the word encourage is “to make someone more determined, hopeful, or confident.”  This is my goal every year as a teacher – to help my students become more determined, hopeful AND confident.

Students in the third grade start becoming more aware of both their strengths and weaknesses.  Sometimes students will focus on how they do not measure up to their peers in certain areas, rather than being proud of their abilities and doing their best to overcome challenges.  I feel it is all of our jobs as adults to encourage our children to be pleased with who they are – all of their strengths, weaknesses, and everything that makes them a one-of-a-kind human being.

My goal is that every day each student in my classroom will:

  1. gain confidence in their abilities
  2. become more determined to do their best in every task they are presented with
  3. be hopeful that despite challenges, mistakes and the occasional failure, that consistent effort will indeed produce favorable results

Do we as adults always succeed with what we set out to accomplish?  Certainly not.  However, it is how we handle both successes and failures in front of our children and students that just may impact them more than how “good” or “bad” we are at our jobs, hobbies, and everyday responsibilities.

As your child’s teacher I will do my best to encourage your son or daughter throughout the year.  I am determined to do so, confident that I have the skills to do so, and I am hopeful for an INCREDIBLE school year.  Your child deserves it.


Mr. Smith

The American Mastodon Supporters Have Spoken!


New Hampshire has never had an official state fossil, but that may change thanks to the fourth graders from our Bradford Elementary School.  On Tuesday, February 17th, four student representatives and three college professors spoke in support of HB 113 – the legislative service request that asks that the American Mastodon be designated as our state’s official state fossil.  Thanks to the support of State Representatives David Borden, Tom Sherman and State Senator Nancy Stiles, this request was brought before a committee and will now be voted on in the coming weeks – March 3rd to be exact.


Front Row: Professor Gary Johnson, Thom Smith, Maya Corbyn, Davis West, Lily Cicoria, Sabian Griffin.  Back Row: Professor Wally Bothner, Professor Will Clyde, Principal Spadaro. 

The hearing was scheduled for 2 pm but did not occur until after 4 pm.  This did not discourage the student representatives at all as they were able to talk to legislators in the hallways of the legislative office building about their efforts while they waited, passing out their mastodon “campaign” buttons as well.  The students, Principal Spadaro and I also had the privilege of getting to know our expert supporters before the hearing: UNH Professors Will Clyde and Wally Bothner, as well as Dartmouth Professor Gary Johnson. Professor Johnson also brought along a mastodon tooth for the students and the legislators to see and hold – a great experience.

When the hearing occurred the professors spoke first and did a wonderful job of bringing different yet very convincing reasons as to why the American mastodon should be our state’s official fossil.  Professor Bothner remarked on how advantageous it would be for the educational community to have an official state fossil, which would increase interest in the areas of geology, archaeology and paleontology.  Professor Will Clyde remarked how important it would be for a state of few fossils to have an official state fossil.  He also commented on how the recent mastodon fossil found off the coast of Rye, NH is a remarkable specimen, currently being researched in Europe at this time.  Lastly, Professor Johnson pointed out how much more sense it makes for a mastodon to be our official state fossil rather than a mammoth, as mastodons were much more prevalent east of the Mississippi than mammoths.


Student Representative Sabian Griffin reading his prepared speech

The students did a wonderful job reading their prepared speeches, handing out flyers and “campaign buttons”, and answering tough questions.  The legislators were impressed, the professors were impressed, and Principal Spadaro and I were very proud of our students.


Student Representatives meeting with State Legislators after the hearing, including Rep. Borden

The House Executive Session on March 3rd should decide whether this legislative service request moves closer to becoming law, or will not be considered.  No matter the outcome, the students of Bradford Elementary School have shown tremendous grit and enthusiasm in making sure their voices are heard.  From my perspective as their teacher and as a participant in this process, I strongly believe the American mastodon has a very good chance of being named our state’s official fossil.  The professors and students have put forth an extremely convincing case in favor of the mastodon.  Time will tell…


The Fourth Grade Class with Representative Borden