How Do You Get Through A Five Hour Math Class Turning Triceratops Into a Trojan Horse

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Turning Triceratops Into a Trojan Horse

Dinosaur themed activities inspire kids to learn about science

A child’s fascination with dinosaurs and all things prehistoric is helping to motivate and inspire students at many schools. With the advent of a more creative curriculum, teachers and assistants are using children’s love of dinosaurs to help get them excited about science subjects and 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 through a series of activities that allow for differentiation in the classroom environment, as well as providing ready-made opportunities for extension activities and supported learning. With a new species of dinosaur being named every twenty to thirty days or so and something like twelve hundred genera of dinosaurs 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 Key Stage 2 of the National Curriculum (7-9 year olds, typically Years 3 to 5 of primary school). The concept of “deep time” can be explained by a timeline they construct that shows when dinosaurs lived in relation to people the children had already studied as part of topics from the previous term: the Romans, the ancient Greeks, etc. By drawing a scale line showing The millions of years that dinosaurs existed, students, under teacher supervision, can construct a line diagram that shows when dinosaurs lived and relates this time to the time of Ancient Rome, Greek civilization and the like. With a time scale of one centimeter representing one million years, children can place events in the correct time periods, a goal set out within the learning objectives of the National Curriculum. By placing individual dinosaurs in the correct geologic period, Apatosaurus within the Jurassic and Tyrannosaurus Rex within the Cretaceous, students can appreciate which dinosaurs lived when and which other prehistoric animals lived at the same time. Secondary resources can be used to get children to learn more about individual dinosaurs and this leads to extension activities such as each child researching, drawing and writing about their own prehistoric animal.

Using timelines to explore deep geological time

When making my own timeline with school children, my advice would be to use a scale of one centimeter equals one million years and draw the history of life on Earth from the present day to 250 million years ago, the beginning of the Triassic geological period. and just before the dinosaurs took center stage in terms of land animal populations on Earth. This means that a timeline can be created about 2.5 meters long, which can easily be placed along part of a classroom wall for display purposes.

Working with very young children at school

With children under the age of three beginning to learn about and show knowledge of these long-lost reptiles, dinosaurs lend themselves to working with foster/foundation age children. When looking at Early Foundation Stage (EYFS) teaching, it is important to help children understand the nature of materials and the world around them. The EYFS framework has recently been revised to remain the statutory framework for the teaching standards required for early years providers. This learning framework helps to prepare reception/foundation age children for school and ensures that children acquire the skills needed to help them progress in the future through their academic studies. A number of teachers are making ‘Dinosaurs’ the first term theme 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 different parts of the body. Simple picking and counting games can be encouraged, such as picking out all the models of prehistoric animals that have four legs, counting the number of greens and the like. These types of activities also lend themselves to a number of extension activities, such as grouping animals that share the same and similar characteristics.

Students in the third key stage

When working with older children, a simple math lesson can be made more challenging and fun by creating a dinosaur track with simulated dinosaur footprints. Kids can learn to measure and calculate using these simple yet imaginative accessories. In one school, a head teacher was asked to step in and run an hour-long maths class with a group of Year 7 children (Key Stage 3 aged 11-12). He borrowed some drawings of footprints and placed a series of dinosaur tracks in the school lobby, then, dividing the class into groups, challenged them to use rulers and measuring tapes to get as much information as possible about the animal that left its footprints. 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 maths-based lesson that helped students become familiar with simple science concepts such as mapping and plotting, as well as introducing simple equations and the use of numeracy.

Dinosaur is a very useful topic or sub-topic for primary and secondary students. This theme has proven particularly useful in encouraging boys who are reluctant readers to become more enthusiastic about reading and to use books as reference materials for further study.

Teaching assistant 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. it can help teachers to ensure that the objectives of the national curriculum are met. Importantly, it also means that imaginative and inspiring lesson plans are being designed, plans that will allow for great differentiation and extension, as well as matching different student needs and learning styles.

It seems that Triceratops is becoming a “Trojan horse” to help young children learn about science topics through creative and imaginative teaching schemes.

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