How Our World Has Changed: Putting the Clues Together

Rebecca Mallabone and Lesley Miyagawa, Third Grade East Teachers
How do scientists know so much? Why do scientists keep notebooks? How can I learn more about what the world was like thousands of years ago? These are all questions third graders get to explore by sketching observations, imagining experiments, recording data and writing down their thoughts in their science notebooks.
In third grade, budding scientists have begun exploring and developing an understanding of how animals and their environments have changed throughout time in our Changing Environments unit. 

Where can you find whales in the desert?
In our first lesson, third graders embarked on a pretend fossil dig in a quarry where they analyzed and interpreted data from fossils. Students examined fossils and gathered information about traits of animals from the past to infer what environments looked like long ago. Third graders used this evidence to engage in a discussion and decided where some mystery fossils came from in the fossil dig based on traits of having wings or legs to live on land or having fins to swim in water. They ultimately discovered that fossil evidence found in the deserts of Africa tells us that this area was not always a dry landscape. In fact, whale bones found in this area tell us that this land was once covered by the ocean.

How do we know what dinosaurs looked like?
Fossils are clues to the past! They can tell us what an animal looked like on the outside, the habitat it lived in, and even the food it ate. Dinosaur skeletons helped us learn that dinosaurs looked a lot like lizards do today. Fossils of their teeth helped us determine if they were carnivores (meat-eaters) or herbivores (plant-eaters). Students were given pieces of information about a mystery (but real) dinosaur called a Concavinator. They learned how a paleoartist uses evidence from fossils to create a drawing of what this long-extinct dinosaur is likely to have looked like.

Can you outrun a dinosaur?!
In our final lesson, third graders carried out an investigation to see how far they could run in eight paces and then compared it to how far dinosaurs could also run in eight paces. They used mathematical and computational thinking to investigate if they could outrun a dinosaur and discussed the results. Discussions included revelations about the need for multiple trials when collecting data to eliminate outliers, as well as thinking about anatomical similarities and differences between humans and dinosaurs to explain the results.

Read more about how inquiry-based exploration shapes the third grade curriculum. 


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