Did you ever notice that children ask lots of “why” questions? So have I. According to this blog post, starting with curiosity and “why” questions makes STEM real and relevant to students. In addition, it must start early, with hands-on, inquiry-based lessons about the natural world around them. Fossils and dinosaurs, in my opinion, are a great place to start.
This National Science Teachers Association document cites and summarizes research proving that young children can understand science because they have the skills and ability to reason scientifically. It also stresses that adults play a critical role in helping young children to learn science, and that the adults must begin by supporting their curiosity about the natural world.
Your students would probably be surprised and fascinated to learn that there is a lucrative trade in smuggling dinosaur fossils from Mongolia to the United States. This article describes and shows photos of 23 smuggled fossils that were recently recovered and returned to Mongolia. They’ll especially enjoy the photo of the preserved nest with intact dinosaur eggs.
Education theory from Dewey, Glasser, Piaget, and Csikszentmihalyi supports the idea that background experience promotes motivation, and that motivation in a subject begins as childhood play. This article summarizes a study that found that teachers interested in science in college were more likely to remember positive early experiences with science.
Photos and descriptions of ongoing fossil projects at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History are featured on this page. Current projects include dinosaur teeth and Triassic fossils from Arizona. Many of the photographs are close-ups, which means you and your students can have a good view of the specimens.
I love this resource! This is a fascinating page of videos and explanations of actual paleontologists at the Smithsonian Natural History Fossil Lab, using various tools and techniques to clean and examine fossils. If you are close enough to Washington DC, your students would love to visit the lab for a field trip. If you can't, this might be the next best thing.
A simple project that uses a salt dough and small toy dinosaurs to make "fossils" for young children, this activity would work well for younger elementary schoolers and even preschoolers. To be more realistic, you could substitute shells for small bones of some kind for the plastic dinosaurs.
This how-to video demonstrates the making of a "fossil" using plaster of Paris, petroleum jelly, Dixie cups, and small seashells. The video is clear and well-designed, even though it was recorded in the teacher's home kitchen. This activity would work best for older elementary students.
A lesson from the always-popular Brainpop teaches students about the stages of fossilization. Students then play a sequencing game, and design playing cards depicting the stages of fossilization of an animal. This activity would work well in kindergarten and first grade with drawing the animals, while second and third graders could also write short texts.