the dinosaur that might be dead

It was a surprise - this "dinosaur that might be dead" - a big surprise.
It was a gift on many levels.
The exploration that occurred on this day literally changed my teaching.

"we need to figure out what happened to this skull...!"

It changed how I understood, introduced and valued materials.
It changed how I understood children's engagement with materials as the children seamlessly integrated rich role playing within an exciting scenario that lasted for many days and included many other children.

Also, it became the spin off point for my masters thesis in graduate school (no worries, won't share that whole thing here! :)

Here's the Very True Story of "The Dinosaur That Might Be Dead" :

It was bigger than an Aha! moment that comes along in teaching. I stood frozen for just a few seconds until I realized that this event that was just beginning to unfold in front of me was going to be special. Sometimes you just know. There was energy present among these 4-year-olds that I knew would bring something beyond unique or amusing as they began to engage with the science materials.

Without saying a word, their actions were telling me "Look at this! Look at us! We are teaching you right now. We are giving you a gift." (and they were!).

Starting to examine the skull with shells and magnifiers.

In the science area in our 4s/5s classroom, all the exploration tools and equipment are available for the children to use as they wish. 

I usually have introduced the different materials in large group so that children have some sense as to how they might engage with them, yet they can discover new ways on their own.

One particular day, I introduced a deer skull - teeth, bones, cracks and all. I shared with the children how a family had given this skull to our Room 5 classroom many years ago. The family had found it at their grandparents farm as they went on a walk way back behind their barn. They thought we might like to use it to further our then-study of fossils and bones.

I offered to the children, "It seems that bones are pretty interesting for children to investigate. If you would like to plan to work in Science today, perhaps you'll be able to make some new discoveries about the skull."

Three children - Cara, Lucas and Nolan - all planned to work in the Science Area.
"We want to use the deer skull," they each said to me.

The three children took the deer skull to an open table...
then the children turned around and proceeded to take out everything else from the Science shelves, as well, and bring it all to the table. 
They had kaleidoscopes, magnets, shells, pinecones and magnifiers.
"Oh, yes," Lucas says to me, "we need everything so we can figure out what happened to this skull!" Claire and Nolan agreed quickly and spread all their equipment out. I sat nearby to listen to their discussion as the 'examination' of the deer skull began. 

The children used
  • shells to tap into small gaps of the skull.
  • magnifiers for all areas of the skull, especially to examine the cracks which they quickly pronounced as quite important to whatever happened to the skull
  • magnets were slipped into the eye holes
  • kaleidoscopes were used for looking at teeth
While all three children used the equipment in unique ways to examine the skull, the dialogue between the children was lively, creative and quite dramatic.

The children turned themselves into Doctors of various kinds - "I am the Doctor Wizard,", "I am the Doctor Princess" and "I am the Doctor of Bones." 

The children agreed that they were not dealing with just a deer skull, but actually

More friends examine the "dinosaur that might be dead" with kaleidoscopes, magnifiers, water/oil blocks, and shells

Cara: We are going to make him back alive!
Lucas: I am checking the eye and the nose...
C: It is getting worse!
Nolan:  I think we should check his head! There might be a rock in there or something!
C: His brain is not thinking - that is wrong!

N: It is getting worse!
C, N, L: We must check his eyes and his nose again!
N: There is an infection on his horns!
C: We have to wash his eyes to make him alive! Or he might have to stay in heaven forever...
L: I think he needs some medicine!
C: We have to help him die, that is the only way!

N: We need kaleidoscopes to help him!
L: Yes!
N: Uh-oh, he is getting power in his nose, there must be a lizard nearby! Maybe he swallowed a snake or a lizard!
N: Come on, we got to do this fast, no time to talk, he is getting worse fast!

C: He is going to die!
L: Inside is really bloody now...
N: Uh-oh, he is cracking more...
L: I need to wash his teeth...
N: Yes, that will take away the cracks.

C: No, no, no, something else was happening. I think the snake killed him with his teeth...
N: ...with his tongue!
C: He has killers in his teeth, that means he is really dangerous!
N: Like a boa constrictor!
L: No, a rattle snake, no a rattle scorpion, or a dinosaur!
N: It was a rattle snake because they are dangerous, very dangerous. They live in the desert. This is very serious. Hey, both the scorpion and the snake live in the desert, maybe they both killed him...!
N: This is a big discussion we are having!
L: We need to kill him or else he will kill the whole world!
N: This is serious, way serious. Maybe he got shot by an arrow, or maybe he got burned by fire...

Testing and examining continues with shells inserted through holes and cracks of the "dinosaur that might be dead."

The dialogue was rich with theories about life and death. There was diverse tool use, inventive role play, and engagement with peers.
There was depth of interest in the investigation and quick, open thinking to participate in this conversation together.

Light Bulb: This experience with Cara, Lucas and Nolan is more than creativity, more than role playing, more than exploring with materials. What this experience brought to light for me was that the materials that are seemingly separate on science shelves are actually not separate at all. The children were driven by an inquiry about this skull that opened up the possibilities of how to use materials. In turn, I found that the children were driven to come back to Science to follow up their own work with the dinosaur from previous days.
Aha!: It was the first time that such a complex scenario was invented in an area of the classroom that is not known for role play to be meshed with inquiry.

For a combination of reasons on this day The Dinosaur That Might Be Dead the children looked at the materials in a new way. Cara, Lucas and Nolan didn't give a second thought to having all the equipment all over the table.
After all, you never know what you may need to bring a dinosaur back to life:  "Come on we got to do this fast, no time to talk, he is getting worse fast!"

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