Dinosaur Tracks and Critical Thinking
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Charles T. Buzek Spry School
2400 S. Marshall
Chicago IL 60623
This activity is designed for classes from 5th grade up.
Students will learn the major geologic eras.
They will learn the rudiments of how tracks are made and how to read them.
They will use powers of observation and critical thinking to produce a scenario.
This activity can be designed as an individual project or class project.
As an individual project, small boxes like shoe boxes can be used. These will
have the bottom part of the box covered in clay.
As a class project, you will need a 1/2 inch thick piece of plywood about 3 feet
square, 4 2x4s about 3 feet in length, and a 25 lb. bag of plaster. The four
2x4s will be used as a border for the plywood. Pour in plaster and water, mix
well and begin to form a landscape.
You will want to create a landscape. I suggest a plain with a river running
through it. This can be formed by hand or a stick. You will have to work
quickly as the plaster sets within an hour. Once the landscape is formed you
will begin to place the tracks in the wet plaster. I recommend using a pencil
as a stylus. The form of the tracks will be chicken-like for the carnivore and
circular for the herbivore. Have a story-line in mind before you begin placing
the tracks. Once finished, allow the plaster to dry and then use spray paint to
create the impression of grass and water. The story-line should be as involved
as possible, providing a lot of evidence for a wide variety of interpretations.
The students will be asked to observe the model carefully all the while taking
notes and bearing in mind that the sides of the model represent the cardinal
points. Then they will return to their seats and will be asked to write a
scenario for what they have seen based on the evidence they have found. Though
the instructor will have had a story-line in mind when the model was made, it is
important to remember that there are no right answers. Any scenario described
is correct if accompanied by sufficient evidence to support the view. Students
should be counseled to give complete descriptions. Try to include evidence that
will allow the students to completely describe the scene, e.g. weather,
direction of wind, time of day, etc. and include these factors in their
discussion of the scenario.
Students will be assessed on the basis of accounting for each set of tracks
with a full discussion of the type of animal that made them and what
information can be inferred from the tracks. They will need to delineate the
sequence of events from the start of the scenario to the end.
This activity is directed to exercising and sharpening students' critical
thinking skills. It also incorporates a writing component making this a multi-
disciplinary activity. For students from multi-cultural backgrounds whose
dominant language is other than English the activity itself represents no
obstacle since very little discussion is needed to get the students started
However the assessment portion of the activity could be modified to allow the
student to write in his native language or draw a diagram using a basic
vocabulary and numbering system to demonstrate comprehension.