Using Movies VS Watching Movies: The Origins of Birds

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SWBAT identify observations and inferences based on fossil evidence.

Big Idea

Students gain understanding of the fossil evidence that has led scientists to determine that birds descended from dinosaurs while improving their ability use observations to make inferences.


5 minutes

Movies can be an invaluable tool in science education.  They provide students with visuals that dramatically improve understanding of key concepts.  While movies can enhance science learning, watching these videos straight through in class is not the best use of class time as students do not need the assistance of the teacher to watch a video.

This is not to say "don't watch videos in class", but rather to make sure that the time spent with the teacher is as productive as possible by using the videos to improve skills while students gain understanding of science concepts.

In the lesson that follows this one, Fossils Document Changes to Ecosystems, students will be expected to use fossils as evidence as they attempt to determine what the prehistoric ecosystem was like in an assigned state.  To ensure students have the necessary skills to do this, they must be able to use observations of the fossil finds in that area to make inferences that relate to the ecosystem that must have surrounded those organisms - not an easy task.  The purpose of this lesson is to assist students in developing those skills

I begin the lesson by showing students the following two images that display two very different types of bird beaks.  I ask students to record their observations for each beak, being as specific as possible.  Next I have students create an inference about what each of these birds might eat and explain their thinking (what evidence led them to that inference).   


I then show students this image and use it to explain that observations of different features give us clues about the lifestyle/habits of the organisms being observed.  I point out a few of these features and ask students to explain what makes the specific beak or foot good for the listed activity, for example the webbed foot is good for swimming because there is more surface area pushing against the water but it is not good for climbing because there is no grabbing claws or extended back digit.


35 minutes

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Biointeractive is an AWESOME resource that I strongly recommend.  This video is about 19 minutes long and it does an excellent job demonstrating the fossil evidence that has led scientists to the conclusion that birds descended from therapod dinosaurs.  I recommend having students watch this video (as homework) prior to this activity, however, it is not essential and will not impede the learning goals of this lesson if they have not previously viewed the video.  

I use this video to help students become better able to understand how scientists use fossil evidence to infer the relationship between birds and dinosaurs.  To do this, I have students create a T-chart in their science journal.  The left heading of the chart is titled "observations" and the right is titled "inferences".  As students watch the video, they are instructed to document the observations being made about the fossil shown and the inferences that stemmed from those observations.  I pause the video to give students the prompt that observations were just discussed, to allow them time to write, and to allow for some discussion.  The following video provides an explanation for what this might look like in action while the student examples found in the resource section shows how the completed chart might look.


5 minutes

To conclude this lesson, I ask students to do the following:

  • List the evidence that has led scientist to the conclusion that birds have descended from dinosaurs.
  • Identify what you believe is the strongest evidence linking birds to dinosaurs and explain your reasoning.
  • Identify what you believe is the weakest evidence linking birds to dinosaurs and explain your reasoning.
  • If birds are descended from dinosaurs, do you think there are any other present day animals that can be traced back to prehistoric ancestors?  Explain your thinking in a well-reasoned paragraph.

The purpose of these questions is to provide me with some insight as to what is going on inside the students' heads.  I am not really concerned with "right answers" as much as I am with students being able to explain their thoughts and support them with information we have been discussing in class.