Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Waste Not, Want Not - Leaning into Experiential Learning

This past weekend we attended an outdoor BBQ. The hosts were cooking a lamb on a spit and as the afternoon wound down, Jack asked if he could have the sheep skull. The hosts graciously wrapped it up in tin foil on it and we officially had a science experiment in our hands, all to prepare a skull that Jack will most likely use for display, and possibly in one of his home horror movies.

Taking the skull of the animal was a good lesson on using all of an animal, wasting nothing, biology, and animal anatomy. If you are a little squeamish, you may want to skip the next section.

The final product, pre-water based water-based polyurethane spray application


Cleaning and Preparing the Skull

The first thing we did when we got home was to degrease the skull by thoroughly boiling it in water. We did this for around 3 hours, taking it out of the water every half hour or so to clean off  meat and skin as it loosened. Soon it became time to remove the eyeball and soft tissue inside of the eye socket. Jack refused to do this with me, but Molly watched me prepare the left side and then completed the right eye removal on her own. My time working as a butcher assistant in a grocery store is paying off in parenting, who knew right?  

I didn't want to drill into the skull to remove the brain, so instead I used a method employed by the ancient Egyptians when preparing mummies, and I pulled it out through the nasal cavity. While I didn't have specific tools for this, the chopstick I used worked quite well. Yes, I threw the chopstick out after.

Next we used forks, butter knives, and even a toothbrush to get the remainder of the meat and skin off the skull.

Most of the way through boiling, degreasing, and cleaning


Bleaching the Skull

I didn't have enough hydrogen peroxide on hand to completely immerse the skull, so it sat in the freezer overnigh while we awaited more supplies. The next day we put it into a tall, narrow container and left it to soak. I'd read online that it could take up to 24 hours to lighten a deer head, and since a sheep is considerably smaller, we monitored it closely so not to damage the bones. About 12 hours later we removed the bones from the peroxide soak (while wearing rubber gloves) and then rinsed them well in water to remove all traces of the peroxide. Later this week we will attempt to urethane the skull to better preserve it and wire the lower jaw to the skull.

This was an unusual learning experience, and I hope that it doesn't got moldy, but if it does, we'll throw it out having learned a lot in the process. I am happy that we took this opportunity for some real, scientific experiential learning, even if my Google search history this week has become a little suspect a la Dexter.

What unusual kid-led learning experiences have you leaned into?