Discovery Trunks for Educators

An example Discovery Trunk and contents

What are they? 

Discovery Trunks are teaching bonanzas from the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, Old Capitol Museum, and the Office of the State Archaeologist! Our trunks can be borrowed by Iowa educators who seek hands-on materials and lessons that fit core teaching about Iowa's natural and cultural history. The trunks develop students' scientific, cultural, and historical literacy. Current Discovery Trunk themes can be explored below, and new themes are already in development!

Who uses them?

Trunks are used by K-12 educators, homeschooling groups, parents working with local AEAs, libraries, nature centers, and other groups engaged in educational programming.  Trunks can be borrowed or their own, or combined with a visit from one of our educators

Why use them?

Each Discovery Trunk helps educators tell unique stories about Iowa's natural and cultural history, using scientific inquiry, archaeology, history, and oral traditions, with themes ranging from Iowa's Devonian Period to the present. Lessons and activities (aimed at 4th-8th grade learners, but adaptable for all ages) are designed to match state curriculum priorities, such as the Iowa Core and National Science Education Standards, making them ideal teaching toolboxes ready to integrate with classroom activities. 

What do they contain?

Trunks contain many objects, including authentic archaeological artifacts, real fossils and other scientific specimens, and high quality replicas of especially rare or fragile items. Books and background references for all ages, videos, DVDs, and flash drives with digital content enhance the lessons. Each trunk has a particular theme and contains items specific to the time period/topic.

How do I reserve a trunk?

Thanks to support from the University of Iowa and the Iowa Academy of Science, the Discovery Trunks will be shipped free of charge to teachers and educators. Reservations are handled on a first-come, first-served basis. The trunks may be borrowed for a maximum of thirty days, with longer terms negotiable. We reserve the right to charge for damaged or missing items. Getting (and returning ) the trunks is easy and affordable; see the shipping options below.

Note: As of July 1, 2016, there is a $25 service fee for all trunks borrowed from the Office of the State Archaeologist (indicated with * below). This service fees covers staff time to maintain the traveling trunk program, including processing requests, preparing trunks for shipping, inventorying and replacing items, and making upgrades to trunk contents and lessons.

Shipping Options:

  • Pick up or drop off the trunk at the University of Iowa campus. Trunks are stored at the Museum of Natural History, Old Capitol Museum, and Office of the State Archaeologist. 
  • Trunks can be shipped to you free of charge!
  • Trunks shipped back are at the borrower's expense. We keep on top of shipping rates with the best-priced vendors, so ask for our input when you make your reservation or when you're returning your trunk. Current rates are around $10-20.


Explore our Discovery Trunks!

*Corn Farmers and Effigy Mound Builders: Iowa 1000 Years Ago

*Dairy on the Prairie

*Early Farmers and Traders: Iowa 2000 Years Ago

*Exploring Glenwood Archaeology

*Fort Atkinson and the Neutral Ground, 1840-1849

Geo-2-Go: Devonian Period

Geo-2-Go: Ice Age Iowa

Geo-2-Go: Pennsylvanian Period

Iowa Art

*Iowa's Earliest Residents: 13,000-3,000 Years Ago

*Meskwaki Culture and History

National History Day

Territorial Iowa

New trunks coming soon:

  • The Archaeology of the Fur Trade
  • Birds & Mammals of Iowa
  • Fort Madison and the War of 1812
  • Iowaville and the Ioway Indians
  • The Land Provides: Iowa's Culinary Heritage
  • Mammoths & Mastodons: Iowa's Ice Age Giants
  • Midwestern Insects
  • Prairie Ecology
  • The Tarkio Valley Giant Sloths
  • Water


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