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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 helps motivate and inspire students at many schools. With the advent of a more creative curriculum, teachers and teaching assistants are using children’s love of dinosaurs to get them excited about science subjects and to explore concepts such as how to develop and test theories.
Described as using a “Triceratops as a Trojan Horse”, students are able to explore scientific concepts and methodologies using a range of activities allowing for differentiation within the classroom setting as well as ready-to-use opportunities. employment for extension activities and supported learning. With a new dinosaur species named every twenty to thirty days or so, and something like twelve hundred dinosaur genera already described, these prehistoric animals always seem to get high profile in the media. It can help teachers write inspiring lesson plans based on these long-extinct reptiles.
Teach by example
An example would be working with children studying the second key stage of the National Curriculum (children aged 7-9, usually in primary school years 3-5). The concept of “deep time” can be explained using a timeline they construct showing when dinosaurs lived in relation to people the children may have already studied as part of previous term subjects – The Romans, the ancient Greeks, etc. By drawing a scale line showing the millions of years that dinosaurs existed, students, under the guidance of teaching staff, can construct a line chart that shows when dinosaurs lived and relates this time to the time of ancient Rome, Greek civilization, etc. With a centimeter time scale representing a million years, children can place events in the correct time periods, a goal set in the National Curriculum Teaching Objectives. By placing the individual dinosaurs in the correct geological period, Apatosaurus in the Jurassic and tyrannosaurus rex in the Cretaceous, students can gain an appreciation for which dinosaurs lived when and what other prehistoric animals lived at the same time. Secondary resources can then be used to get children to learn more about individual dinosaurs, leading to extension activities such as each child researching, drawing and writing about their own prehistoric animal.
Using timelines to explore deep geologic time
When creating my own timeline with school children, my advice would be to use a scale of one centimeter equaling one million years and chart the history of life on Earth from the present day to the present day. 250 million years ago, the beginning of the Triassic geological period. and just before dinosaurs rose to prominence in terms of land animal populations on Earth. This means that a timeline of approximately 2.5 meters in length can be created, which can easily be installed along part of a classroom wall for display purposes.
Working with very young children in school
With children under the age of three beginning to learn and show knowledge about these long extinct reptiles, Dinosauria lends itself to working with foster/foundation age children. When consulting on teaching 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 and remains the statutory framework of teaching standards required for early years providers. This educational framework helps prepare children of reception/foundation age for school and ensures that children acquire the skills necessary to help them progress well in the future through their university studies. A number of teachers make “dinosaurs” the subject of the first trimester that children encounter, fossils and models can help them explore the properties of different materials, and even different dinosaur toys can help them learn about the different parts of the body. Simple picking and counting games can be encouraged, such as choosing all models of prehistoric four-legged animals, counting the number of green animals, etc. These types of activities also lend themselves to a number of extension activities such as grouping together animals that share the same characteristics, etc.
Third Key Stage Students
When working with older children, a simple math lesson can be made more challenging and fun by creating a dinosaur track with fake dinosaur footprints. Kids can learn to measure and count with these simple yet imaginative accessories. In one school, a principal was asked to step in and lead a one-hour math lesson with a group of 7th grade (Key Stage 3) children aged 11-12. He borrowed footprint drawings and made a series of dinosaur tracks in the school hall, then dividing the class into groups, he challenged them to use rulers and measuring tapes to get 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 measurements (the arithmetic mean). It was certainly a memorable and rewarding math lesson that helped students learn about simple science concepts such as mapping and tracing, as well as introducing simple equations and the use of numeracy.
The Dinosauria is a very useful term topic or semester topic for elementary and high school students. This topic has proven particularly useful in encouraging boys who are reluctant readers to become more enthusiastic about reading and using books as reference material for further study.
Help with teaching 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. Find out who the dinosaurs were, where they lived, what they ate, when they lived, how big they were, etc. can help teachers ensure that national curriculum goals are met. Crucially, it also means that imaginative and inspiring lesson plans are being developed, plans that will allow for a lot of differentiation and extension as well as adapting to different student needs and learning styles.
It seems like the likes of Triceratops are turning into a “Trojan horse” to help young children learn science subjects through creative and imaginative teaching programs.
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