Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2001

Students get wrapped up in science lesson

February 15, 2001

Sam Wilcox said he wouldn't have had the patience to be an embalmer in ancient Egypt.

The Lexington Trails student can speak with some knowledge on the obscure topic. He and other sixth-graders at the school mummified Cornish hens this year.

The mummification was part of an integrated study program that gave students an opportunity to learn lessons in topics as diverse as ancient Egyptian culture and modern scientific data collection techniques.

Lexington Trails Middle School math and science teacher Wendy Karr
talks about the hens her class mummified earlier this semester.

Lexington Trails Middle School math and science teacher Wendy Karr talks about the hens her class mummified earlier this semester.

Lexington Trails math and science teacher Wendy Karr started mummifying a small number of chickens in her classroom two years ago after reading about the project in Current Science magazine. This year, more students had the opportunity to get involved when the DeSoto Apple Market and other local supermarkets donated Cornish hens.

"We haven't done it on this scale before," she said. "This year, every three kids had a chicken."

Ancient Egyptians started the mummification process by soaking corpses in water from the Nile River for 70 days, Karr said. The process worked because the river water contained a large amount of salt that drew water from the body.

Without access to Nile River water, the Lexington Trails sixth-graders were forced to make adaptations to the ancient process. Hens were placed in two-gallon plastic bags and soaked in a solution of water and cattle salt for eight weeks.

In place of the sweet-smelling oils ancient embalmers rubbed on bodies, the sixth-graders added spices. The students also couldn't afford the strips of flax used to wrap the ancient mummies.

"We did it the cheap way. We wrapped the chickens in strips of old linen," Karr said.

Students measured the hens regularly while they were soaking to see how much they were shrinking because of water loss, Karr said. They then charted their findings on a bar graph.

During the integrated-study program, the students read a novel on ancient Egypt and made model tombs like those of the long-dead pharaohs.

The subject might have grim undertones, but sixth-grader Jennifer Hill said she enjoyed the project. She wants to unwrap her group's mummy, Big Bird, when the class peels off the linen bindings to the rock-hard mummies in May.

"I've never done anything like this before," she said. "It was fun."

While the majority of the hens will be unwrapped in May, some will be unwrapped during Lexington Trails Learning Fair in March, Karr said.

Sixth-grader Wilcox said he learned enough about the mummification process to know he wouldn't have made it as an embalmer in Egypt's golden days.

"I wouldn't have the patience to wait 70 days," he said.

The students might have learned something that connected them with their grandparents through the project.

"A majority of the kids hadn't seen a whole chicken before," she said. "They said, 'My mom buys chicken breasts, wings or other parts.'"

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