Pre-School Palaeontology: Science Learning for the Under Fives

A guest post from Science from the Start’s Laura Hobbs..

“Under-fives tend to be an underserved audience for informal science learning, but even the youngest babies are using their senses to learn about the world around them all the time – they’re never too young!

Science from the Start

Comparing the size of hands to a life-sized triceratops footprint

Comparing the size of hands to a life-sized triceratops footprint

Science from the Start provides science-based play learning activities for pre-school aged children. Activities cover a wide range of topics, from sensory experiences to experiments using chemistry and physics, and use  variety of learning methods.

Popular activities include milk swirls (using food colouring, milk and washing up liquid), snow dough (a mixture of cornflour, oil and glitter), sensory bottles (bottles filled with a huge range of materials, which children can use to observe the behaviour objects that they couldn’t safely handle directly), making butter, making ice cream without using a freezer, painting in a bag and fizzy floor paint.

Earth Science Week 2014

ESW round logoSessions are quite often linked to wider events, such as science weeks, to give the activities extra context. My background is in Earth Sciences (an MSci in Geology followed by a PhD on interactions between volcanic airfall and glaciers), so a session for Earth Science Week is a given.

In 2014, Science from the Start ran a session at Carnforth Library, Lancashire, called ‘Fossil Hunting for the Under Fives’ (although we were in fact joined by children aged up to 7 from a local school). The fossil theme meant we could also link to Biology Week, which overlapped with Earth Science Week last year.

A dinosaur falling victim to vinegar and bicarbonate of soda volcano

A dinosaur falling victim to vinegar and bicarbonate of soda volcano

The older children went on an outdoor dinosaur hunt, searching for model dinosaurs using an ID and information sheet and working out which one was missing. They finished off their visit with a ‘volcanic eruption’ (a bicarbonate of soda and vinegar reaction over a play dough landscape) which knocked over some dinosaurs and trees, and a quick talk about volcanic hazards.

Inside, the pre-schoolers and their families were busy playing with fossil sensory bottles, learning about common fossils, hunting for shells in limestone-coloured snow dough and finding out about how one day, these could become fossils. This was tied into talking about looking for shells at the beach, as we were in a coastal area.

Fossil hunting in fizzy (carbonated) play dough and painting dinosaurs

Fossil hunting in fizzy (carbonated) play dough and painting dinosaurs

We painted dinosaurs by shaking the shapes and paint in freezer bags, and the children made their own fossil prints in fizzy play dough (containing bicarbonate of soda) and then watched them dissolve when sprayed with vinegar. This was linked to a discussion of the influence of geology on fossil preservation and the effects of acid rain with the adults.

We read the book ‘Digging for Dinosaurs’, which describes the process of finding, excavating, transporting and cleaning fossils, alongside photographs of real-life palaeontologists doing the same things and some pictures of real fossils (kindly supplied by Dr Matthew Pound of Northumbria University and Sarah Hobbs, University of Bristol.) Finally, the under-fives also ended by watching a ‘volcanic eruption.’

Lancashire Links

We revisited this theme for Lancashire Day in November because Richard Owen, who coined the term ‘dinosaur’ and brought about the Natural History Museum, was born in Lancaster. This time, the children hatched model dinosaurs from play dough eggs, played with the dinosaurs and compared the size of their own hands and feet with a life-sized cut-out of a triceratops footprint.

Dissolving fizzy (carbonated) play dough eggs with vinegar to find the dinosaurs inside

Dissolving fizzy (carbonated) play dough eggs with vinegar to find the dinosaurs inside

Next, we’re running a session on volcanoes at a local library for British Science Week in March. There are plenty of activities we could do – building, naming and erupting volcanoes, making volcano baby mobiles, matching volcano pictures and experimenting with flows and surfaces are all possibilities…”

  • Laura Hobbs runs ‘Science from the Start’, providing science-based play learning activities for pre-school aged children. All activities are parent/carer led and provided with accompanying accessible scientific background information to help adults facilitate and engage with children’s learning. They also use readily available, free or low cost materials to enable reproduction or extension at home. Links to other informal science learning opportunities for under 5s are provided through a directory on the project website, and through the project Facebook page. Support for the sessions described was provided by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
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2015 – the Year of Mud!

We’re kicking of a series of themed years, by declaring 2015 the year of mud, mud, glorious mud! Geological Society Council Member Lucy Slater explains…

YEAR OF MUD_460

 

 

 

Lucy Slater 125 x 125

 

 

“In 2015, we’re focusing on the importance of mud in its many forms, from recent soil, through shale, to ancient slate.

GSL’s series of themed years, starting with Mud, aim to:

 

  • Bring together scientists from a variety of disciplines to talk about the challenges they face, cross fertilise ideas and create new solutions and concepts
  • Raise awareness of the importance and economic value of geology to our everyday lives
  • Address key issues in geoscience

In our lives every day mud is so important, from food supply to bricks, from energy to waste disposal (nuclear and CO2). It is home to the simplest and some of the most complex organisms on the Earth. Recent advances in technology means that we can look at modern and ancient mud right down to the nanometre scale.”

The Year of Mud will feature a range of events and meetings, starting on January 21 with a public talk from the Geological Society’s President, David Manning, on ‘Glories of Mud.’

The lecture will shortly be available to watch on our YouTube Channel - in the meantime, here’s David talking about what the Year of Mud is all about in our podcast.

To stay up to date with Year of Mud events, visit www.geolsoc.org.uk/mud15

 

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Calling all amateur fossil collectors! Geologists appeal after new species of Ichthyosaur discovered in Scotland

A geologist at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences has encouraged fossil collectors to come forward with their finds, after a new species of marine reptile, described as ‘the size of a motor boat’, was discovered from fossils found on the Isle of Skye.

Dearcmhara shawcrossi image c. Todd Marshall

Dearcmhara shawcrossi image c. Todd Marshall

The fossils were collected at Bearreraig Bay by amateur collector Brian Shawcross in 1959, and have been analysed by a collaborative group of paelaeontologists, led by the University of Edinburgh. The group concluded they were evidence of a new species of Ichthyosaur, living around 170 million years ago in warm, shallow seas around Scotland. They have named the species Dearcmhara shawcrossi after their discoverer.

‘Without the generosity of the collector who donated the bones to a museum instead of keeping them or selling them, we would have never known that this amazing animal existed’ said Dr Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences. ‘We are honoured to name the new species after Mr. Shawcross and will do the same if any other collectors wish to donate new specimens!’

Ichthyosaurs first appeared around 250 million years ago, and survived until around 90 million years ago. Though they co-existed with dinosaurs, they were a separate vertebrate group, characterised by dolphin like features, with flippers, pointed head and long, fishlike bodies.

Dearchmhara shawcrossi lived during the Jurassic period; a time when much of Skye was under water. What was to become the UK was part of a large island positioned between the landmasses which eventually drifted apart to become Europe and North America.

Dr Brusatte said ‘during the time of dinosaurs, the waters of Scotland were prowled by big reptiles the size of motor boats. Their fossils are very rare, and only now, for the first time, we’ve found a new species that was uniquely Scottish.’

Members of the PalAlba palaeontology research group. Left to right: Mark Young, Nick Fraser, Neil Clark, Stig Walsh, Steve Brusatte, Tom Challands, Colin MacFadyen. Photo by Bill Crighton

Members of the PalAlba palaeontology research group. Left to right: Mark Young, Nick Fraser, Neil Clark, Stig Walsh, Steve Brusatte, Tom Challands, Colin MacFadyen. Photo by Bill Crighton

The team who analysed the finds, known as PalAlba, included scientists from the University of Edinburgh, National Museums Scotland, the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum, Scottish National Heritage and Staffin Museum, Isle of Skyle.

Dr Nick Fraser, of National Museums Scotland, said ‘not only is this a very special discovery, but it also marks the beginning of a major new collaboration involving some of the most eminent palaeontologists in Scotland.’

If you want to see the finds, they will be exhibited at a one day fossil event at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh on Sunday, 18 January, 10am – 4pm. And if you want your name immortalised as the name of a species, you know what to do!

  • The results of the study are published by the Geological Society Publishing House in the Scottish Journal of Geology, a joint publication of the Geological Societies of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

 

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Door 24: We wish you a Merry (Mary Anning) Christmas

Twenty Four Continue reading

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Door 23: The Heart of a King

Twenty three Continue reading

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Door 22: The Geological Society Christmas Quiz

Twenty two Continue reading

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Door 21: Four non geologists who should totally be geologists

Twenty one Continue reading

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Door 20: Four more geologists you didn’t know were geologists

Twenty Continue reading

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Door 19: Ghosts of the Museum – The Unfortunate Toad

Nineteen Continue reading

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Door 18: Climate Change Christmas

Eighteen Continue reading

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