Dinosaur & Fossils for Primary Schools
How do we know about dinosaurs?
The word dinosaur means 'terrible lizard'. Dinosaur fossils have been known about throughout History but people weren't sure what they were, the Ancient Greeks thought they were proof of mythical beasts and Titans. The first dinosaur to be described scientifically was Megalosaurus in 1824, by William Buckland. The science of dinosaurs and fossils first started in England due to the rise of Geological science during the Industrial Revolution. Maidstone in Kent has a dinosaur as part of its coat of arms because one of the first dinosaur fossils was discovered in Queen's Road, Maidstone.
When did dinosaurs live?
Dinosaurs lived for around 165 million years, far longer than humans have been around. They first evolved around 230 million years ago and died out 65 million years ago. This period of time is known as an Era and is called the Mesozoic Era. The Mesozoic Era is divided into three periods: the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous.
A good way to understand just how long dinosaurs were around is to divide the eras into a big timeline. If you were to make 1mm on a ruler equal to 1 year and extend the timeline from London then dinosaurs would have died out around Oxford. 65,000,000 years would be equal to 65 km and Oxford is 65 km from London. Dinosaurs would have originated around Ireland. 230,000,000 years would be equal to 230 km and Ireland is around 230 km from London. If you wanted to go all the way back to the earliest life forms, 4,000,000,000 years ago, the timeline would stretch across the North Atlantic to New York, (4000 km from London).
What were dinosaurs?
A popular belief is that dinosaurs were large lizards, now we know this is not the case, some of the dinosaurs were more like birds and we know this due to their skeletal structure. Dinosaurs which are similar to birds are called Avian dinosaurs and dinosaurs which have a different skeletal structure are called non-Avian dinosaurs. Some later dinosaur fossils, such as Archaeopteryx, have been found with feathers so we know that they must have evolved into birds.
What happened to the dinosaurs?
The dinosaurs died out due to a huge meteiorite impact in the Gulf of Mexico, this was called the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction. When disasters like this happen and lots of life dies out it is known as a mass extinction event. There have been several mass extinction events in Earth's history, the worst was the Permian Triassic Extinction which killed off 90% of life and the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction was the second worst. After the dinosaurs died out mammals took over the world.
Ideas for Teachers
If you're looking for some ideas to make your lesson fun then you can try the following:
Create your own dinosaur: Draw your own dinosaur using all the knowledge that you have learned. Is it a carnivore or a herbivore? How do you know? What name are you going to give it? Will it have feathers or spikes? Spots or stripes? Flat teeth or sharp teeth? Will it live in a jungle or in a swamp?
Make your own dinosaur out of clay: One of the best ways to learn about dinosaurs is to make your own one out of clay. Will it be a friendly dinosaur or a scary dinosaur? What colour will you paint it?
How big would a dinosaur be? Try to find out what size the biggest dinosaur was and see if you can measure it out in the playground. Would it be longer or taller than your school? How big was the smallest dinosaur?