7- and 8-year-olds with tape measures in their hands eagerly grasp at hard, smooth yet knobby, tined objects. These students are my 2nd-graders at USU’s Edith Bowen Laboratory School, and they are working on a measurement, addition, and estimation math lesson in small groups. This lesson isn’t a normal math lesson where students follow along in a textbook and complete standardized problem. Instead, this lesson centers around a natural artifact from the Utah wild. The students are measuring and exploring deer and elk antlers.
All three images:
Courtesy & © Joseph Kozlowski, PhotographerGrowing up, I was surrounded by rural friends and family. Much of their livelihoods and lifestyles revolved around the outdoors, and it was commonplace to enter their homes or ranches to see spindly antlers laying on mantles, mounted above doors, or carefully placed in gardens to add a western feel. Over the years, I made my own personal connection to antlers such as when I found one when I was chucker partridge hunting up Blacksmith Fork Canyon with my trusty Springer Spaniel, Wyatt, who is no longer here to share such adventures. Each antler is a memory, each one makes me reminisce on an outdoor adventure that will only live on as a thought.
As a teacher, I am always pondering ways to make learning more relatable to students, and one day realized the method employed by professionals to score antlers would be a meaningful way for my students to practice measurement! So, I loaded up the truck with my collection of outdoor memories, and brought them to school.
I launched the activity and each and every eye lit up at the sight of an antler. We hadn’t even begun the activity yet and my students started sharing their own memories of times with their family that related to antlers; a rafting excursion on the Green River, an elk hunting trip with their dad and big brother, or even a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park where they saw lots of bull elk. These stories were powerful to the students, and powerful to me.
We continued with the measurement activity and each student group collaborated to measure the tines and three circumferences of each antler. Then, they would struggle, and succeed, to add all those sub-measurements together to get a total score for that antler, which we collected as data. Groups would rotate to a new, unique antler and repeat this process, collecting student-generated data which we compiled. By the end, our data consisted of multiple scores for each antler, as various groups had scored each one. We analyzed the data, looked at discrepancies in scores, posed and solved antler math problems, and even ended the activity by showing a new antler that hadn’t been scored, having all the students make a visual estimation of the total score for the antler, and then giving the antler to the student who made the closest estimation.
In the end, this activity brought together what I value in education. It connected to the place and culture in which my students live, was directly focused on academic content needed by my students, and elicited engagement and personal stories from my students. In a perfect world, all my lessons would be as powerful and relatable to students as this one was. In fact, right before leaving for Spring Break one of my students declared “We’re going to stay at an elk ranch in Southern Utah so I can try to see some antlers!”
On normal years, your family is welcome to collect antlers year-round, only needing a free gathering certificate between February 1st-April 15th (https://wildlife.utah.gov/antler-gathering.html). However this year due to the harsh winter, Division of Wildlife Resources put a ban on the activity until May 1st https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/utah-wildlife-news/1593-dwr-implements-emergency-statewide-shed-antler-hunting-restrictions-to-protect-big-game.html).
This is Dr. Joseph Kozlowski, and I am Wild about Utah!
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer, Used by Permission
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org/
Text: Joseph Kozlowski, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Joseph Kozlowski
Joseph (Joey) Kozlowski’s pieces on Wild About Utah: https://wildaboututah.org/author/joseph-kowlowski/
Gathering shed antlers or horns, Take the Antler Gathering Ethics Course between Feb. 1
and April 15., Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of
DWR implements emergency statewide restrictions for shed antler hunting to help
protect wintering big game in Utah, Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural
Resources, State of Utah, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/utah-wildlife-news/1593-dwrimplements-emergency-statewide-shed-antler-hunting-restrictions-to-protect-biggame.html