Potential fossil fuels educational experience

Tisbury School kindergartners got a chance to make a scientific decision.

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Tisbury School kindergarten teachers Rita Jeffers and Shannon Moore were on a beach at Lake Tashmoo hunting for sea glass and shells when Jeffers stumbled upon something that caught her eye.

It wasn’t the typical treasure, but it had the shape of a tooth, and looked old and weathered. She scooped it up and showed it off.

Jeffers reached out to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to see if it could be a fossil, a tooth from a megalodon, an extinct species of a massive shark that once roamed the ocean waters in the time of dinosaurs.

Ann Ducharme, education director the museum, and Kimmy Ulmer, a scientist at Sail MV, were at Tisbury School Monday morning to put the find to the test — comparing it against a megalodon tooth the museum has in its collection.

“It looks like a shark tooth,” John Michael Oliver, one of the students, said during the hourlong interactive lesson. The students answered questions about what they had learned about sharks and megalodons:

  • Sharks have to keep moving or they die.
  • Sharks have multiple rows of teeth.
  • Sharks have cartilage, not bones.
  • Megalodons are not dinosaurs because they’re not reptiles.
  • Megalodons were really, really big.
  • Megalodons roamed the ocean 2½ million years ago.

 

Great whites are 20 feet long at their maximum, while megalodons could be as large as 60 feet, Ducharme told the students. That means some huge teeth — about the size of an adult hand.

The young charges got a chance to see other artifacts up close and, through the use of ribbon, got to see just how long a megalodon was in its prime compared with great whites. There was a look-but-don’t-touch of the actual megalodon tooth from the museum, which was making a rare appearance outside its controlled environment.

“You guys are the first students on the Island to get a look at a megalodon tooth in the classroom,” Ducharme told them. She held the tooth wearing protective gloves.

The students made observations about the artifact they knew was a megalodon tooth. It was “pointier, smoother, serrated, and had roots.” The other artifact was “smaller, had a thicker edge, and was lumpy.”

With the help of Ulmer, they created a Venn diagram that showed the only two characteristics the artifacts shared was that they were both “pointy” and “triangles.”

“Think about what you observed, and not what you want to believe is true,” Ducharme told the children.

Still, when she asked if the kindergartners thought their find was a megalodon tooth, the children voted with their hearts, as hands went up.

Ducharme then asked the adults in the group, and no hands went up.

“Take a moment to be disappointed,” she told the students.

“Just like last night’s Patriots loss,” Jeffers said.

Afterward, Jeffers told The Times it was still an exciting experience for her students. They’ve been writing about the find and thinking about it in class.

“It’s a really good learning opportunity,” she said, pointing out the great resource that the museum’s educational outreach provides.

Ducharme encouraged the young students to keep their eyes open the next time they head for the shore. “You could find a megalodon tooth on Martha’s Vineyard,” she said. “You should keep looking.”

 

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