Grade Level: 6th – 8th grade
Subject Matter: Paleontology (Life Science and Geology)
National Standards: NS.5-8.1, NS.5-8.3, NS.5-8.4
Body and trace dinosaur fossils (Recommended: Dinosaur Museum In a Box kit available at http://www.enasco.com/product/SB45849M)
Magnifying lens, one for each pair or group of students
Worksheets -- one for each student
Paleontology: the study of ancient life.
Fossils: the preserved traces or remains of plants and animals.
Body fossil: fossilized remains of the actual body parts of an organism such as bones, teeth and claws.
Trace fossil: fossilized remains of an organism’s activity or behavior such as tracks, eggshells, nests, and coprolites.
Coprolite: fossilized feces.
Prep: Label each fossil in the set by letter, and create an information sheet that identifies the fossil and whether it is a body or trace fossil. Students will use this sheet as a reference towards the end of the activity, during the review.
1. Begin the lesson by having students watch the Science Friday video, “Fossils from the Dawn of Dinos.” Discuss with students how fossils are formed. What are some different types of fossils a paleontologist might find at an archaeological site? What is the difference between body fossils and trace fossils?
2. On the worksheet at the end of this lesson, students will see three columns, each column labeled. Inform students that they will act as paleontologists by examining several dinosaur fossils and determining whether they are either body or trace fossils.
3. Hand out one fossil to each pair or group of students. Have students observe the fossil using a magnifying lens. Students should sketch a diagram of the fossil, with the letter on the label of their fossil, in the first column of their chart. Are there any patterns or distinguishing features on the fossil? What does it look like?
4. Ask students to share and discuss their observations of the fossil within their pair or group. Can they identify what the fossil is? Can they determine what kind of dinosaur it is? What can they tell about the dinosaur from examining the fossil? Students should record their predictions in the second column of their chart.
5. Based on their observation and description of each fossil, do students think it is a trace or body fossil? Instruct students to record their prediction and reasoning under the third column of their chart.
6. Have students exchange fossils and repeat steps 3-5 for each fossil.
7. Compare and contrast results with the entire class. Was it difficult to tell the difference between a body or trace fossil? Were students able to identify each fossil?
8. Hand out the fossil reference sheet created prior to the lesson. Ask students to identify each fossil (skull, eggshell, tooth, etc.), and whether it is a body or trace fossil. Have students explain the features or characteristics of each fossil that helped them identify it. Were they able to identify the type of dinosaur? If they are not able to identify the dinosaur, what observations can they make about each fossil? Can size, shape, or other distinguishing features help them learn about that dinosaur?
Fossils generally form when an organism is covered quickly after death by sediment. Over a very long time, the remains of the organism are gradually replaced by surrounding minerals that harden into rock. Scientists organize fossils into two main categories: body and trace fossils. Body fossils are the actual body parts of the original organism. Trace fossils are evidence of an organism’s activity or behavior. Paleontologists use fossils as clues to learn about how dinosaurs lived and what they looked like over 65 million years ago.
• What tools or techniques do paleontologist use to find fossils?
• Which is found in greater abundance --trace or body fossils? Why?
• What do fossilized human remains tell us about the behavior or physical features of early humans?
Visit a local museum that features dinosaur fossils. Have students go on a scavenger hunt in the museum to find body and trace fossils on display.