The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Swanson shows youth how to be a bone detective


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

Marc Swanson shows students one of the skulls in his bone collection.

Former Seward teacher and National Parks Service interpreter Marc Swanson packed some of his many boxes filled with animal bones into his car, and took them to the Kenai Peninsula Schools’ Seward Connections office recently to give some local home-schoolers hands-on experience they won’t soon forget. Swanson has designed a series of workshops for primary and secondary students that he calls “Summit Educational Services of Alaska.” His workshops will be available to all students, but at the moment Swanson is pretty busy as the high school ski team coach.

“Become a Bone Detective” reflects Swanson’s philosophy that learning should have relevancy in the real world. Kids love bones because they contain mysteries that cry out to be solved, he said. From a single bone, a savvy bone detective can discover many things including the bones’ name, its owners’ identity, its age, movement requirements and possibly even how its owner died.

“What we are doing is important and necessary. Let us reconnect the youth to the natural world. Let us confront them with the mysteries and wonders that surround them. When they walk through the woods, let us give them the tools to walk with curiosity and knowledge,” Swanson said.

With these particular children, who ranged from pre-kindergarten through first grade, Swanson started the class off by setting a pile of bones in front of the students. Then they got to explore them, matching and sorting the bones according to their structures. The second session focused on identifying skulls and learning about teeth. A boy named Asher admired the many skulls and marveled at how new, solid, and how large they were, especially “Bonnie Bill,” a massive moose skull.

“I really love this one (a bear). And I just love it cause it’s brand new, and it looks so good,” Asher said. “I love this because it has these big antlers that I like,” he said, picking up a deer skull.

“It’s a wonderful experience for the children and for myself. I’ve learned a lot,” said Sarah Benjamin, one of the children’s mothers. “The kids seemed very interested and enthusiastic. I think they could have gone another four or five more sessions without being bored with it. They learned everything from carnivores to omnivores, to different mammals in the state of Alaska to the Lower 48. The kids caught on really well, and Marc Swanson was very good with them.” She was eager to go home and boil up the head of the bear that her husband had killed, pick it clean with dental equipment, and present it to him in time for Christmas, and was sure that Asher would love to help.

Students in grades 4-6 will learn how to fit skeletons together and how to quantify how the animals differ structurally; they will dissect owl pellets, and remove/identify the bones they find, then piece them together. Children in grades 7-12 will learn a scientific drawing technique, and will articulate full moose and sea lion skeletons.

Information on the workshops is available by contacting Swanson at, 362-2582 or Summit Educational Services of Alaska, Box 2185, Seward, AK 99664.


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