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Dinosaurs and the Science of Discovery

Giant Dinosaurs lived a long time ago

When the Earth was very warm

And there wasn’t any snow. Giant Dinosaurs with giant sized roars Lived millions of years ago

If you have been inside the Barn lately, you might think the dinosaurs are alive and kicking right now. Dinosaurs have made their appearance in the water table, under the climber and in the back room. The children have been busy singing dinosaur songs like the one above and a school favorite “My Name is Stegosaurus” We have been reading dinosaur books, making dinosaur bread and excavating dinosaur bones in the sand table.

If you ask a small child how we know about dinosaurs they might respond with “By reading Books.” To help them understand that the knowledge in books came from fossilized evidence we had the children create their own “fossils” by pressing plants and toy dinosaurs into wet potters clay which then hardened into beautiful works of art (although we discovered to be officially a fossil we would have to wait 10,000 years). The children then also made their own “bones” using papier mache and were able to think about what kind of dinosaur they would like their bone to have come from. Later they explored principals of measurement using their own bone as a unit of distance measurement.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to encourage them to be divergent open ended thinkers; to question and consider all possibilities. Great strides in science come not from knowing and reciting facts, but from questioning and exploring different possibilities. The content of scientific knowledge is constantly evolving as we as humans evolve our processes of accumulating and interpreting data. On a recent visit to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History I approached the woman working in the gift shop for advice on updating our library of books about dinosaurs. The gift store was empty and she enthusiastically took me around the store offering suggestions and sharing her great wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm on the subject. When I mentioned that I knew that many of our books still referenced the Brontosaurus which I had learned in the 1990’s was no longer considered a legitimate dinosaur (like Pluto), she smiled at me and said, “Oh, but it is again.” She then took me into the museum to show me the original Brontosaurus skeleton which had been in question. It was right there in the next room! and in 2015 it had been shown that the Brontosaurus was in fact its own dinosaur. It had the wrong head on it, and had been confused with an Apatosaurus, but is now officially recognized by the scientific community and is “back on the books.” She then pointed out the famous mural on the wall, Rudloph Zallinger’s “The Age of Reptiles” which had been completed in 1947 It is a wonderful piece of art based on the scientific knowledge of the time. While many of the details are no longer considered scientifically accurate, she pointed out the opportunity for using it to t help teach about the evolution of our understanding of these magnificent animals which is based merely on the evidence they have left of their existence. The museum will be undergoing a major renovation soon that will involve redesigning the great hall in order to position the tail of the aforementioned brontosaurus to be held up in the air- a fact that was

discovered through the absence, not the presence, of fossils (there were no tail marks to be found among dinosaur footprints) and our growing understanding of anatomy and physiology.

I left the Museum armed with books, a poster of the mural a feathered Therizinosaurus figure and an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm to share with the children, teachers and families at school.

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