Investigating Dinosaur Footprints to Develop Observation and Inferring Skills

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Students will be able to 1) make observations and inferences about dinosaur footprints and 2) alter or abandon previous hypotheses based on new evidence.

Big Idea

Students need exposure to actual scenarios that promote the nature of science. This lesson asks students to piece together explanations and then challenge their previous beliefs based on new findings.

Do Now

5 minutes

Do Now: Why do you think that our understanding of science changes overtime?

I want students to realize that new discoveries can lead to new evidence, which can promote the establishment of new hypotheses that are defended with evidence.  This is the premise of the dinosaur footprint lesson, so bringing it up as a DO NOW opens their minds to the potential that their scientific thinking can change.

Introducing Activity and Protocols

3 minutes

Introduce today's lesson by reviewing the Do Now with students and emphasizing the importance of being open to new ideas and interpretations of data.  Show this dinosaur picture from the field to hook students into the dinosaur footprint activity and explain that, "Just like this scientist out in the field, we are going to observe dinosaur footprints today and infer meaning from what we see.  Most scientific discoveries are indirect, meaning that we often look back at fossils to find answers to our questions."  

I then say that we are going to apply all of our observation and inference skills to try to explain what dinosaur fossils might be able to tell us about how certain dinosaurs interacted. (Practice 1 Asking Questions and Defining Problems, specifically ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, models, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.)

When this worksheet is given to students it is important to explain that students should not work ahead or look at the back of the paper, since it will alter their views of what happened and we want to perform our investigations like scientists would in the field.  Evidence doesn't just appear, it needs to be unearthed or found out in the field.  By not flipping over the paper we are modeling the actions of scientists.

Activity protocol:

Step One: Observe the picture (4 minutes).

Step Two: Infer and hypothesize meaning; discuss with your group members and try to explain what you think is happening--DEFEND YOUR ANSWERS WITH EVIDENCE (Observations). (2-4 minutes.) Students are using Practice 1 Asking Questions and Defining Problems by identifying or clarifying evidence and/or the premise(s) of an argument.

Step Three: Share your ideas with the class during discussion (2 minutes).

Repeat for each picture, for a total of three times.

Students Work on Each Section

25 minutes

As students are working on each section, I am circulating around the room to make sure that students are making accurate and objective observations.  I help students/groups get started, if they are struggling with the activity.  I also keep the students updated on how much time is remaining in each section.  

Using Claim-Evidence-Reasoning to Check for Understanding

15 minutes

Students' ideas of what happened will change as they move the positions of the bone manipulatives in the pictures.  This is a great opportunity to assess my students ability to use evidence to defend their beliefs.  

It is also a good time to emphasize the value of argumentation.  Just as in real-life scientific situations, my students are encouraged to argue their alternative beliefs with their peers, often resulting in multiple theories about what exactly happened with the dinosaur footprints. 

Students complete a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning to support the question:

"What can we learn from these dinosaur fossils?"

Claim: The larger dinosaur hunted and ate the smaller dinosaur.

Note: Students may have to complete the C-E-R for homework.