Paleontologist Activity!

Alright folks, I don't mean to upset anyone, but I have it on good authority that I am "The BEST Teacher EVER!!" Of course, this was after we had a super fun science activity, so my students might be a little biased, but still, I'm the best :) EVER!

What did we do that made me so popular? We were paleontologists and excavated dinosaur skulls! Here's  how:

I purchased 2 Safari Dinosaur Skull Toobs. These are the coolest little skulls - there are 11 different kinds of skulls, some are represented more often than others, but out of the two Toobs, we got at least one of each specimen. There were 11 skulls in each Toob.

I'm thinking of getting these Dinosaur Fossil Skeletons for a dinosaur dig in plaster of paris next time!
Here's what I did with the skulls:

 I filled the bottom 1/3 of  9oz red solo cups with water and froze it. This is important because otherwise the skull will sink to the bottom of the cup and freeze right at the surface making it too easy to get out.
 Once the water was frozen I placed a skull on top of the ice and then filled the cup with water.
 I placed the cups back in the freezer and froze them solid. The cloudiness helps obscure the dinosaur skull so the kids can't see what type of skull they got right away!

Today, when I was ready to begin our activity, I gathered everyone at carpet and we talked about how we knew what we know about dinosaurs. Since there were no humans alive when dinosaurs lived, how do we know about them now? Since we've been reading a lot of dinosaur books this week, the kids easily explained about paleontologists finding fossils and digging up skeletons. We talked about how inferences can be made from the fossils - footprints close together might mean that a Stegosaurus was running, and if there are Tyrannosaurus footprints behind the Stegosaurus' footprints it might mean the T. Rex was chasing the stegosaurus. If a dinosaur skeleton is found with lizard bones where it's stomach would have been then we can probably conclude that it was a carnivore that ate lizards etc. A paleontologist has to gather clues and piece together the story of each dinosaur. We talked about tools a paleontologist might use and how fossils are fragile so they have to treat them gently.

I then revealed our activity - to excavate a fossil frozen in ice. We discussed ways to melt the ice to extract the fossil. For instance, dropping it on the floor was discouraged because fossils are fragile (and I didn't want ice every where!). The kids came up with the idea to use something hot like warm water to try to melt the ice. Another student remembered melting ice with salt in a previous experiment. Then one student suggested we set the ice on fire. As I gently explained that it really wouldn't be safe to set our ice on fire, another student came up with the brilliant idea of using the heating lamp that we had for our baby chicks! Since they went to the farm yesterday, it was sitting unused on the table. I agreed that the lamp would be an acceptable alternative to fire. I was so proud that they came up with three possible ways to melt the ice on their own, it makes the experience so much more meaningful when they help create the activity rather than me having everything set out for them already! I set a bowl of salt and a cup of warm water on each table, armed the students with paintbrushes and set them to work:

We popped the ice out of the cup simply by letting the cups sit at room m temperature for a few minutes beforehand.

Students put pinches of salt on their ice blocks and then brushed it around with the paintbrush.

We figured out that turning the ice block on it's side meant that we could see the fossil more easily and there was less ice between it and the surface!
We took turns bringing our ice blocks to sit under the heat lamp. 

We added the salt to the ice while it was under the heat lamp and that combination seemed to be the best!
Soon we had our fossils out and could compare them to the chart to see which specimens we had!
Once we identified our skull we started a rough draft. Today we decided whether we were going the non-fiction route, identifying the skull and relating facts about the dinosaur, or going the fiction route and pretending we were paleontologists who had truly just excavated a fossil and relating what we were thinking and feeling and what we planned to do next.

From start, through clean up and beginning writing, the activity took about an hour. We used a ton of paper towels before I thought to grab some clean rags from the custodian's closet and use those to clean up the melting ice. Our tables have never been cleaner by the way!For the entire hour the kids were fully engaged - trying to predict which dinosaur they had, identifying features as the ice melted, excitedly exclaiming as they got closer and closer to being able to extract the skull! I wish I could show you the pictures I took of their faces, they are just so wrapped up and focused it was awesome!

Tomorrow we will transfer our writing onto our special paper and make some paper plate dinosaurs to go with them! Now that testing is finished, we'll have lots of time for fun stuff these last few days! If you'd like to see the finished writing and paper plate projects be sure to check back tomorrow night! 

Rustle Up a Response: How are you going to spend your last few days of school this year? Anything special planned?

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6 Rustle Up A Response!:

Miss Squirrels said... Reply to comment

You ARE the best teacher ever!!!
Those are some great frozen dinosaurs!
I love the EOY stuff~ I have to ask myself- why weren't they this engaged before!?!?!?!

Going Nutty!

Elisabeth said... Reply to comment

Awesome! Such a great idea! I'll definitely have to try this next year!

Tales of An Elementary Teacher

Miss Parsons said... Reply to comment

Ohhhhhh I love your frozen skulls! I will have to try that one next year. Can't wait to see their writing! :)

Lori said... Reply to comment

Such a fun learning activity!! No wonder the kids said you were the best teacher! :)
Conversations in Literacy

Lauren said... Reply to comment

I found this blog through Amber's linky party and I am sooooo glad I did!! I LOVE this idea! it is so simple yet so fun!! I love anything that will engage my students for an entire hour at this point of the year :) We are doing a dinosaur unit until the end of the year and I will definitely give this idea a try. Thank you so much for posting it :) Consider me your newest follower. If you get a chance, stop by my blog too!


Tanya Solano said... Reply to comment

YES! This is a fantastic activity. On the plan for next year's dino unit for sure! Thanks for sharing!
Ms. Solano's Kindergarten

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