Working with Dinosaurs

Age 7 to 11
Article by Jenny Murray

Published 2008 Revised 2017

Children love dinosaurs. Everyone knows that. There are also other related facts and theories which can intrigue older learners as well. How can these fascinating creatures from so long ago be utilised in the classroom for ideas of measurement and other mathematical concepts?

Firstly, there is the measurement of length.

4 dinosaurs

This image is from Wikipedia .

Is there room to mark out the length of Amphicoelias, the largest one here, in the school grounds? How many times longer is the Stegosaurus (orange) than you are, if you lie on the ground?

Next you can ask how much dinosaurs weighed. Obviously although the length of many dinosaurs can be measured from their fossilised skeletons, their mass, among many other facts, must be estimated.

The Natural History Museum in London has a superb web site with a great deal devoted to dinosaurs.

Apart from much easily accessible information, the museum also produces individual pages and printable sheets on some dinosaurs. These sheets give facts such as length, height, mass, how it moved and the era in which it lived.

To find these sheets go to either "In Your Country" or "Name A-Z" on the Natural History web site, and click on an individual dinosaur from the pictorial list. At the bottom of the page of pictures and a few facts, there is often a "printable datafile" which can be viewed or printed. For an example, I will take the all-time favourite, Tyrannosaurus.

There is a useful list of many, many dinosaurs with links to pictures from various sources.

The first dinosaurs evolved about 227 million years ago. A timeline can be constructed for the 162 million years that the dinosaurs inhabited the earth.

If we were to try to make an accurate timeline from the time of the first dinosaurs to the present day with each year represented by one millimetre, it would be 227 kilometres (about 140 miles) long! This is the distance from London to Cardiff. In contrast, modern mankind evolved less than two million years ago, not far on the journey to Wales!

How many years would each millimetre have to represent to fit this timeline in the school grounds?
In the classroom?

Some learners may be interested in the differences between the true dinosaur and other prehistoric reptiles.

Things might have changed in 227 million years. The colour of dinosaurs in models and pictures is based on the colours of today's amphibians and reptiles. It is likely that both predators and their prey would be best served by being the colour of the surrounding plants and landscape, but this is speculative. Children who colour dinosaurs blue or red might well be correct. We will never know! However, the picture of a dinosaur covered in a floral print I once saw in a children's picture book is most unlikely, as flowering plants only developed during the Cretaceous period, not that long before the final extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.