Sponsored Programs, Agreements, Research, and Contracts Office

Evolutionary Biology - Skull Cast Education


Project: Evolutionary Biology - Skull Cast Education

Principal Investigator: Jacqualine Grant

Funding Type: Private - Sub-award

Funding Source: Michigan State University: Society for the Study of Evolution

Funding Amount: $800

College: Walter Maxwell Gibson College of Science & Engineering

Department: Garth & Jerri Frehner Museum of Natural History

Studies have shown that the more senses stimulated during a learning experience the more solidly the concepts will be cemented into a student’s mind. Dr. Jacqualine Grant has brought a new tactile experience to student visitors to the campus museum and STEM teachers-in-training.

Dr. Grant purchased skull replicas from Bone Clones Inc., a company in California that creates osteological reproductions ranging in size from tiny pieces of human skulls to full dolphin skeletons. Dr. Grant is using these skulls to create a teaching toolbox at the Garth & Jerri Frehner Museum of Natural History. The toolbox can be borrowed by local K-12 educators and is complete with lesson plans and classroom activities. Representing sixteen species native to Utah, the skulls demonstrate how the teeth and jaw structure of vertebrate animals are related to what they eat.

The idea for the cast skulls came from a program Dr. Grant runs out of the museum each fall. In 2013, more than 2,000 K-8 students were asked to examine a set of common Utah mammal skulls, determine differences and guess which skull belonged to which animal. “[The students] often get quite vocal in defense of their evidence-based choices,” Dr. Grant wrote in her grant proposal to The Society for the Study of Evolution. However, real skulls are comprised of tiny parts and extremely fragile. In order to bring this experience to a wider audience, the much more durable polyurethane casts were preferable.

When she was drafting the proposal, Dr. Grant was teaching a professional development course in which she introduced Iron County K-12 STEM educators to upcoming state science standards and helped them develop curricula that increased the emphasis on evolution. It was for these classes that the skull casts project was proposed and indeed, her proposal was accompanied by letters of support from members of the campus and wider community of Iron County testifying to the benefits that her hands-on approach was having on faculty members.

Replica Animal Skulls