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Turning Triceratops Into a Trojan Horse
Dinosaur-themed activities inspire young children to learn about science
A child’s fascination with dinosaurs and all things prehistoric is helping to motivate and inspire students in many schools. With the advent of a more creative curriculum, teachers and teaching assistants are using children’s love of dinosaurs to help them get excited about science subjects and explore concepts such as developing and testing theories.
Described as using a “Triceratops as a Trojan Horse”, students are able to explore scientific concepts and methodologies using a range of activities that enable differentiation in the classroom environment, as well as providing ready opportunities for additional activities and learning to supported. With a new dinosaur species being named every twenty to thirty days or so and something like twelve hundred dinosaur genera already described, these prehistoric animals always seem to have a high profile in the media. This can help teachers write inspiring lesson plans based on these long-extinct reptiles.
Teaching by example
An example would be working with children studying the second key stage of the national curriculum (children aged 7 to 9 years usually in primary school years 3 to 5). The concept of “deep time” can be explained using a timeline they construct showing when dinosaurs lived in relation to humans which the children may have already studied as part of the previous term’s topics – Romans, Ancient Greeks etc. . By drawing a scale line showing the millions of years that dinosaurs have existed, students, under the supervision of teaching staff, can construct a linear diagram showing when dinosaurs lived and relate this time to the time of Ancient Rome, the Greek civilization and other similar ones. With a time scale of one centimeter representing one million years, children can place events in the correct time periods, an objective outlined within the teaching objectives of the national curriculum. Placing individual dinosaurs in their proper geologic period, Apatosaurus within the Jurassic and Tyrannosaurus rex within the Cretaceous, students can gain an appreciation of which dinosaurs lived when and which other prehistoric animals lived at the same time. Secondary sources can then be used to encourage children to learn more about individual dinosaurs and this leads to additional activities, such as each child searching for, drawing and writing about their own prehistoric animal.
Using timelines to explore deep geological time
When I make my timeline with school children, my advice would be to use a scale of one centimeter equal to one million years and draw the history of life on Earth from today to 250 million years ago, the beginning of the Triassic geological period. and shortly before the dinosaurs came to prominence in terms of land animal populations on Earth. This means that a timeline around 2.5 meters long can be created, easily able to be placed along part of the classroom wall for display purposes.
Working with very young children at school
With children as young as three starting to learn and show knowledge about these long-extinct reptiles, Dinosauria is ready to work with reception/foundation age children. When consulting on teaching in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), it is important to help children understand the nature of materials and the world around them. The EYFS framework has recently been revised which remains the legal framework for teaching standards required of early years providers. This learning framework helps to prepare reception/foundation age children for school and ensures that children gain the necessary skills to help them make good future progress through their academic studies. A number of teachers are making “Dinosaurs” the topic of the first term children encounter, fossils and models can help them explore the properties of different materials and even different dinosaur toys can help them to learn about different parts of the body. Simple selection and counting games can be encouraged, such as choose all the models of prehistoric animals that have four legs, count the number of greens and other such. These types of activities also lend themselves to a variety of additional activities, such as grouping animals together that share the same and similar characteristics.
Students of the third main stage
When working with older children, a simple math lesson can be made more challenging and fun by creating a dinosaur track with pretend dinosaur footprints. Children can learn to measure and count using these simple yet imaginative props. In one school, a headteacher was asked to intervene and run a maths lesson with a group of Year 7 children (Key Stage 3, age 11-12). He borrowed some footprint drawings and laid out a series of dinosaur tracks in the school hall and then, dividing the class into groups, challenged them to use rulers and tapes to find as much information as possible about the animal that left the tracks. He was able to develop this lesson plan by introducing the concept of scale drawings and average measures (arithmetic mean). It was certainly a memorable and rewarding maths-based lesson that helped students get to grips with simple science concepts like plotting and drawing, as well as presenting simple equations and using numbers.
Dinosaurs make a very useful term topic or partial topic for elementary and middle school students. This topic has proved particularly useful in encouraging boys who are reluctant readers to become more enthusiastic about reading and using books as reference materials for further study.
Teaching assistants and teaching assistants
Teachers and teaching assistants can use children’s interest in prehistoric animals to help them learn about the world around them and simple scientific principles. Finding out who the dinosaurs were, where they lived, what they ate, when they lived, how big they were etc. can all help teachers to ensure that national curriculum objectives are being met. Importantly, it also means that imaginative and inspiring lesson plans are being designed, plans that will allow for a lot of differentiation and extension, as well as accommodating different student needs and learning styles.
It seems that Triceratops is turning into a “Trojan Horse” to help young children learn about science subjects through creative and imaginative teaching schemes.
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