It’s easy to start a discussion about fossils and paleontology. Just ask your students to name their favorite dinosaurs. Almost everybody has a dino fave!
Depending upon the grade(s) you teach, your discussion may revolve around characteristics and classification of specific dinosaurs… the concept of extinction… or even the field of paleontology. We’ve amassed a wealth of links and ideas that will help you get your class excited about learning more. So… start digging!
If you have any ideas for new discussion starters on this topic, share with us in the comments section below, and be sure to browse our selection of fun and educational paleontology and life science experiments!
People sling the word “dinosaur” around an awful lot. But not every prehistoric creature was a dinosaur, after all. Dinosaurs aren’t the same as the archosaurs that preceded them. And they are not the same as the pterosaurs with which they coexisted.
Why were dinosaurs so big? What did they eat? Where did they live? How did they raise their young? Start your discussion with this excellent article, “12 Frequently Asked Questions about Dinosaurs.”
What DON’T We Know?
Were dinosaurs warm-blooded or cold-blooded? Which one was the first? The biggest? The fuzziest? How did certain species learn to fly? Most of all, why aren’t there any dinosaurs alive today?
The Ten Biggest Unsolved Dinosaur Mysteries is a fascinating read. A fossil whodunnit!
One of our favorites dino online resources for younger students is the American Museum of Natural History’s Big Dig page. It includes card games, hands-on activities, interviews with paleontologists, and more. We especially loved their interactive games, and your students will, too.
The collection of fossil photos at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is also a winner. If your students are working at fossil identification, this is undoubtedly the best place to start!
What’s in a Name?
The word dinosaur is from the Greek deinos (terrible) and sauros (lizard). Some dino names are short, while others are tongue twisters. Let’s consider these common roots found in dinosaur names:
Dinosaurs Among Us
The evolution of life on Earth is full of amazing episodes. But there is one story that really captures the imagination: the transition from the familiar, charismatic dinos that dominated the planet for around 170 million years into a new, smaller form that still survives today. Namely, birds!
The fossil record of this story grows richer by the day. It’s worth noting that the boundary between the animals we call birds and the animals we traditionally called dinosaurs is now practically obsolete. A special exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York explains how this extraordinary story continues today.
New insights about the asteroid thought to have killed off the dinosaurs suggest it may have just been the final blow. It’s possible that the finicky climate prompted by volcanic eruptions (long before the meteorite struck) weakened them. This National Geographic article, “What Killed Dinosaurs,” is a great primer.
More Online Resources
Where to start? Clearly, there are thousands of excellent sites for learning more about fossils and dinosaurs. Here are just a few of our favorite finds:
- Extinction Over Time from Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
- Paleobiology Collections from the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)
- Mammoth Extinction from Science NetLinks
- Dinosaurs in Our Backyard from NMNH
- The Making of Mass Extinctions from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)
For even more, don’t miss our Fossils & Dinosaurs TV link!
And last but not least, we had to share this awesome illustration from artist Ray Troll!