Understanding Paleontology {Themed Unit}

This past week was filled full of thematic learning!  Integrated instruction includes a combination of subjects, has an emphasis on projects, goes beyond a textbook, includes flexible schedules and flexible groupings.  Watching students form relationships among ideas and concepts they experience during themed-based inquiry is rewarding.
I do have a curriculum that I use but thankfully the prescribed lessons last only a few days.  This allows for me to plan meaningful instruction that is FASCINATING to a seven year old!

Say Paleontologist!

This past week, I incorporated DINOSAURS into my instruction!!!!  My students embraced me today at recess.  I was told that I'm the coolest teacher they've EVER had! This is a true honor coming from a very short but hopefully long lived educational path!  In all seriousness, score one for the "at the moment" cool teacher.


My young paleontologists needed a work environment!  The excavation site is key for buy in!  Only a few items made this experience magical.  Supplies I used were orange construction tape, a paleontologist sign, a party tent, dinosaurs, a hat and vest!  Party tents are a dime a dozen.  Ask your faculty or staff, I'm certain several on staff have one! 

 So here's a glimpse at my week...
I began with vocabulary each day.  Two words were selected and I tailored my content to support the vocabulary.   

This unit offers several formats for responding to vocabulary. 
Below you can preview most words included in the pack.

I shared a few videos, on day one, about paleontology and paleontologist, Barnum Brown.  The song I'm a Paleontologist was highly requested throughout of the week. 
*Warning* You'll be asked to replay the song!!!
When I introduced my developing reader, I projected the color version.  This was the instructional read. I assisted students blending or segmenting new words.  We used my vocabulary cards to infer or read the meaning of the underlined vocabulary from the text. 

In the days to follow, we continued to work on blending and segmenting, discussing new vocabulary and working on fluency using the student reader! We usually spent about 15 minutes on the developing reader.

The additional reading time was devoted to various dinosaur, fossil and paleontology books, allowing exposure to the topic with a variety of texts.

I prepared follow up activities for each day of the week.  The first day on site, students were enthusiastic and absorbing all the content.  I channeled their excitement for sharing with an open forum, charting their discussions.  Using graphic organizers, students shared all their new learning.

The daily reading content was driven by the featured vocabulary words.  Tuesday I introduced dinosaur and extinct.  After reading Meat Eaters and Plant Eaters, students worked in teams to discuss adjectives for describing dinosaurs.

Please see Mrs. Johnson's site.  She has a creative post and a freebie similar with additional activities to complete.  Link Here
Extinct! What could I use to help my kids understand extinct? Of course, Mo Willems!  Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct is an adorable tale sure to captivate your students! 
Wednesday, we worked with sedimentary and earthquake.  Having the horrific events recently in Nepal, many kids had a bit more background knowledge on earthquakes so we focused on sedimentary.  My sister was able to visit my classroom, volunteering her time.  She called two students over to the excavation site to make a sedimentary treat.  Others remained on the floor working by clipboards.  In an open forum, students discussed the visual of sedimentary layers.  I created a chart, recording the discussions.

So what is the treat?  See picture tutorial below...

Thursday was our highly anticipated, ready to explode with excitement, excavating day!  Paleontologist geared up and took pictures with the "massive" dinosaurs hanging from the ceiling.
The lighting destroyed the pictured effect but the impact was felt.  The kids really loved having the prop on hand!
  Paleontologist Craft from Deanna Jump's Dinosaur Unit!
Link Here for Craft!

I recommend having the kids assist in coloring the backdrop.  They show more ownership of the dig site.  The images below are from last year...

I choose to go big! In reality, the kids take on much of the work!
Determine the number of centers that works best for you.  I prefer partners.  Along with the featured centers below, I include dinosaur books to read and plastic dinosaurs to explore.  I also included vocabulary.  Students record each of the tools in their vocabulary books. Students excavated dinosaur fossils using various tools in the sand.  Each of the following centers provides little or no assistance which allows you time to focus on excavating the eggs and cookies.

The above excavation kit is available from Lakeshore Learning.
Click image below to link.

Lakeshore Learning has another great exploration kit and book about dinosaurs.  My kids were amazed with the artifact and fun facts!

 Unguals and Toenails! Ewww!
 Tyrant Tooth and Toothless Children!

Fingers and Fierce Claws!
The focus words for Paleontologist Day (Thursday) was excavation and fossil.  We began with the same routine from the previous days.  I introduced vocabulary words, read the developing reader for fluency, and introduced a few non fiction stories on topic.  For the remainder of the day, students rotated through excavation centers.

 Students used the dental flossers shown below for a pickaxe.


The following center incorporates writing from many different genres.  I had some students listing facts, others wrote describing sentences, one wrote a procedural paper, while many wrote narratives.  I love that the center always for practice writing in many genres!  The independence came from our combined science/writing lessons...

With district math tests next week, I kept my lessons consistent with the curriculum and provided center practice.  Normally, I would bring in theme to the math instruction!

I merged science and writing during PALEONOTOLOGIST week.  Check your library for a guided drawing book on dinosaurs!  This will set the stage for the independent center.  Follow a quick drawing session, I shared facts from my unit about one of the five featured dinosaurs: Brontosaurs, Pterodactyl,  Stegosaurs, Tyrannosaurs Rex and Triceratops.  Once all facts were shared, I took time to complete a shared writing.  Each day was a different genre for review.  Kid were asked to apply writing from the lesson and practice with their own papers.
Since the informational facts has a few new vocabulary words, I create a short list of five words to review prior to introducing the facts.
I sure hope you love all the featured content!
This item is listed on sale in my TpT store. 
Click the preview image below to link!



Candice Harman said...

They all look like they are having fun, my student would love this.

Susan Haas said...

Love this project based learning and kids do too! Thanks for great ideas!

Suzy Q said...

Wow! This must be something your students will remember forever! Love the vests, too! tokyoshoes at hotmail dot com

Amber O. said...

Your kids are so right: you ARE the coolest teacher ever! I wish I could pin every image from this post; It is one I will keep coming back to during my planning for next year! Virtually running to your store tonight if I don't win;)

Positively Learning said...

Thank you for sharing all of this! I'm def interested in incorporating ideas like this next year and really didn't know where to begin. This post totally inspires me! Jen :)

Lori Huhne said...

This unit is great!! I love the vests!

Mary Love Strange said...

This unit looks like such fun!! I like so much about this unit, especially the PBL portion (but seriously it all looks so engaging)!

Kathy Bowman said...

This looks like a blast and my second graders love all things rocks, soil, and fossils!

Blayke Striebel said...

My kids are super interested in learning about Dino's so I'm gonna do something with it when we finish our reading series. Would love to have this to go along with the book I'm going to read them!! myranda.striebel@okee.k12.fl.us

Joy Smith said...

Wow, I'm going to have to try this out when we do our dinosaur unit.

Heather Renz said...

Cheryl, these activities are so fun and packed with earning FUN! Thanks for sharing your craft with others! You're a pro!
Heather from Mrs. Renz’ Class