Friday, August 12, 2016

Paleontology Rocks

We have had a blast playing Paleontologist this week! We of course learned a lot about dinosaurs, but we also explored many other aspects of paleontology work, including geological time scales and whale evolution. Here is some insight into what we did at Camp Explorations this week!

On Monday, we talked about fossils. We learned what fossils are and how they form. We then looked at some artifacts, some fossils and some not, and sorted them into fossil and non-fossil groups. Some examples of the fossils were petrified wood, a coprolite (fossilized dinosaur poop!), and fossilized dinosaur bone. Then we practiced observing fossils like paleontologists would. Each camper got a small fossil to examine, either a coprolite, fossilized dinosaur bone, or fossilized vertebrae segment. Campers measured the fossils and looked closely at their color and shape to determine what they were, just as paleontologists would do at a dig site or in a lab. Then we did an activity to learn about fossil function. We cut up images of animal skeletons into individual body parts. Campers pulled one piece of each body part from envelopes, and then put them all together to make a full skeleton. Some pieces campers drew were blank pieces of paper, to represent how paleontologists often times don't find all the parts of a skeleton, and have to use knowledge of other animals to figure out what body part might go there. Campers glued their skeletons together and talked about how scientists determine the function of fossilized animal parts. Finally, we made casts of different fossils. Campers got to choose between making a T. rex tooth, a Spinosaurus tooth, or a Deinonychus claw. We talked about how paleontologists make casts of fossils for many reasons, often times to protect fragile fossils or to have more copies of fossils to share with the public. Campers also painted styrofoam eggs to look like Maiasaura eggs for an activity on Tuesday.

A camper makes a T. rex tooth cast
Campers paint their Maiasaura eggs
Campers glue together pieces of skeleton
and talk about their function
A camper observes a brachiopod fossil

On Tuesday, we learned about dinosaurs. Using the eggs we painted on Monday, we built a model Maiasaura nest in our dig box, making a mound of sand to hold the eggs and then burying the eggs in leaves and sticks, as a Maiasaura did to protect the eggs. We played a game called Walking with Dinosaurs, in which campers picked a dinosaur player and went along a path of events that simulated the life of a dinosaur. We experienced the dinosaurs' struggle to find food, the fear of encountering a predator, and seeing an asteroid fly through the sky towards the Earth. We also made Stegosaurus back plates, which campers loved wearing for the rest of the day! Campers also got guided tours from their counselors of the Hall of Evolution, and learned about what characterizes dinosaurs from other animals. We learned that dinosaurs didn't live in water, didn't have fur, didn't have legs or arms that stuck out to the sides (or as we say, they didn't do funny push-ups), and didn't fly. This is how we distinguish dinosaurs from other animals that lived at the same time, like Pterosaurs or Dimetrodon.

A camper  looks at their next life event during
Walking with Dinosaurs
Campers show off their dinosaur players
during Walking With Dinosaurs
Campers look at a Dimetrodon exhibit
while learning about what dinosaurs are.
The Maiasaura nest that one group created
Campers decorate their Stegosaurus backplates
Campers show off their Stegosaurus backplates
A camper draws a picture of the Maiasaura nest

On Wednesday, we looked at the bigger picture of prehistory: geological time scale. We did a geological timeline challenge and campers had to correctly place 15 different geological events on a timeline of Earth's evolution. We talked about when oceans and the first continents started to form (4.4 billion years ago), when the Permo-Triassic extinction happened (251 million years ago), and when our species of Homo sapiens evolved (200,000 years ago). We also talked about how long different geological events take to happen, like earthquakes, length of an ice age, or how long it takes a supercontinent to break up and reform. Finally, we did a paleontology dig and used an animal chronology key to determine what time period we were exploring based on the animals we dug up. Campers dug in four different time periods: Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous and Quaternary, and had to determine in what order the different dig sites would go.

Campers dig for animals and determine
what time period they came from
Campers place geological events along
 a timeline

Campers place geological events along
a timeline
On Thursday, we focused on life before and after the dinosaurs. We got a special visit from Dave Kasper, a marine scientist who talked to us all about fossil and modern ocean animal remains! We learned about how to distinguish different types of shark teeth, and then campers got to dig up all sorts of awesome ocean specimens, from tiger shark teeth, to sea urchin spines, to the most popular find: Megalodon teeth! Campers were very excited to be able to keep some of the artifacts they found. We also toured the Life Through the Ages gallery and saw dioramas of how lifeforms and environments have changed across time periods. Next, we made paper models of prehistoric animals. Blue and Red groups made models of a trilobite, and Orange and Yellow groups made models of Orthocone nautiloids. Both were very intricate to cut out and put together, but they looked pretty neat! Finally, we talked about the evolution of whales. Campers worked in groups to place different whale ancestors on a timeline to help us learn about how whales have evolved, and how paleontologists have pieced together evidence of whale evolution. We also got to see the whale skeletons that we have here at the museum, including the Basilosaurus hanging from the ceiling on the 2nd floor, the Maiacetus, and the Dorudon. We learned about how whales have evolved from animals that were able to go on land, to animals that live only in the water.

Campers work on their trilobite models
A camper works on his
Orthocone nautiloid model
A camper finds a Megalodon tooth
during the fossil dig
Dave Kasper shows campers Megalodon teeth
A camper gets help identifying the shark
teeth she found during the dig
Campers search for shark teeth during the
dig with Dave Kasper

On Friday, we finished up the week with a fossil dig for dinosaur skeletons, and then we made museum exhibit dioramas for the skeletons we found. We looked around the museum for ideas about how to create informative exhibits. We also did some more fossil observations, this time looking at images of imprint fossils of leaves and insects. Campers measured and made observations about the fossils and then cataloged them by giving them an identification number and drawing them on a grid.

A camper measures a fossil image
A camper makes their dinosaur exhibit diorama
Campers dig for dinosaur skeletons
A camper makes their dinosaur exhibit diorama

We hope your campers enjoyed learning about prehistoric life and how paleontologists study it this week. We know we had fun exploring with them! Next week is our last week of Camp Explorations for the summer, and we will be finishing it off with two exciting sessions: Outdoor Explorers in the morning and Best of Camp Explorations in the afternoon. We also have our last Little Explorers session, Science Explorers. We hope to see some of you again next week or next summer!

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