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Scientists Marvel at Dinosaur Dance Floor




Arts & Humanities
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--Life Sciences
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Social Studies
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Grades 2-up

News Content

Scientists have discovered a huge concentration of thousands of dinosaur footprints in a small area of the U.S. Southwest.

Anticipation Guide

Before reading, display a U.S. map and ask students to identify the locations of Arizona and Utah. If your map is detailed, perhaps students can identify the locations of Page, Arizona, and Kanab, Utah. This weeks news story takes place in a remote spot about halfway between Page and Kanab.

News Words

Next, introduce these words that appear in the News Word Box on the students printable page: border, determined, erosion, scattered, sandstone, and upright. Discuss the meanings of any of those words that might be unfamiliar. Then ask students to use one of those words to complete each of these sentences:

  • The police have not yet _____ who was at fault in the car accident. (determined)
  • When Yao Ming stood _____, we could see that he was all of 7 feet, 6 inches tall! (upright)
  • Hawaii and Alaska are the only two U.S. states that do not share a _____ with another state. (border)
  • The rising ocean waters are causing _____ along the shoreline. (erosion)
  • When the penny jar broke, hundreds of pennies were _____ across the floor. (scattered)
  • The _____ cliffs of Arizona were formed by sand dunes hardened by minerals in the groundwater. (sandstone)

Read the News

Click for a printable version of this weeks news story Scientists Marvel at Dinosaur Dance Floor.

Reading the News

You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

Students might first read the news story to themselves; then you might call on individual students to read sections of the news aloud for the class.

Photocopy the news story onto a transparency and project it onto a screen. (Or use your classroom computer's projector to project the story.) Read the story aloud as a class, or ask students to take turns reading it.

Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write notes in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.

More Facts to Share

You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this weeks news story.

About 1,000 dinosaur footprints and tail-drag marks were discovered in a remote site along the Arizona-Utah border in what is now the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The new discovery is rare because of the large number of tracks found in a small area. "Unlike other trackways that may have several to dozens of footprint impressions, this particular surface has more than 1,000," according to researchers who recently published their findings in the journal Palaios. [See photos of the site.]

Scientists believe that during the Early Jurassic Period the U.S. Southwest was covered with a field of sand dunes. This desert area was larger than the Sahara Desert; it covered much of Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. Low oasis-like watering holes were located between the dunes. These tracks were found near one such watering hole; the wet, soft sand at the hole would explain why the tracks were so distinct and deep, the scientists say. "You can see the mounds of the sand going around their toes," Marjorie Chan, professor and chair of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah, told National Geographic.

Winston Seiler, a geologist at the University of Utah, studied the shapes and sizes of the tracks. He suggests that four different dinosaur species gathered at the watering hole based on his identification of four distinct types of tracks:
--- long, three-toed prints, with heel marks, 10 to 16 inches long; these were likely made by upright-walking dinosaurs with body lengths of 16 to 20 feet (smaller than Tyrannosaurus rex)
--- three-toed tracks, 4 to 7 inches long, left by small dinosaurs only a few feet tall
--- circular tracks, 6 to 11 inches long, left by creatures that walked on four legs and were the largest dinosaurs at the site; the tail-drag marks are associated with these footprints
--- additional tracks, 7 to 10 inches long, made by dinosaurs that ranged from 6 to 13 feet in length

Alan Titus, a paleontologist at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Kanab, Utah, has not seen the site in person but is not convinced that these are really dinosaur tracks. "I've observed thousands of tracks in early Jurassic rocks of the Colorado Plateau and have never seen one that looked like the one [the researchers found]," he told National Geographic.

Chan first visited the site of the dinosaur tracks in 2005 with a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger who was puzzled by them. Chan initially called them potholes, which are erosion features common in desert sandstone. "But I knew that wasn't the whole story because of the high concentration and because they weren't anywhere else nearby but along that one surface."

Seiler, who first saw the tracks in 2006, had similar thoughts. "At first glance, they look like weathering pits -- a field of odd potholes," he said. "But within about five minutes of wandering around, I realized these were dinosaur footprints."

Jim Kirkland, Utah's state paleontologist, has not been to the site, but he has seen many of the researchers' photos and agrees with some of their conclusions. "Some of the [imprints] are definitely tracks," he said. Kirkland is a little more leery about the tail-drags, which are rare and can be difficult to verify.

Seiler and Chan say they remain certain that the tracks are not erosion potholes. Upon close inspection, many of the impressions are ringed by mounds of displaced sand that had to be formed when the sand was soft, before it was turned to rock," said Seiler. He also identified the repeating patterns of the footprints and, in some cases, three clear toes. In addition, the tracks "are rarely flat and are typically oriented at an angle and indicate a clear direction of travel" to the west-southwest. The evidence that these are dinosaur tracks outweighs evidence for the other possibilities, he said.

Comprehension Check

Recalling Detail

  • Where was this latest dinosaur footprint discovery made? (in the U.S. Southwest, near the border of Arizona and Utah)
  • Why did one scientist say the footprints looked like a dinosaur dance floor"? (Accept reasoned responses; for example, there were so many footprints in one place that it looked like dinosaurs might have gathered for a dance.)
  • How many different types of dinosaur tracks have scientists identified? (They have identified four distinctly different types of tracks.)
  • How wide were the tail-drag marks that scientists saw? (2-1/2 inches wide)
  • About how old are these dinosaur footprints? (Scientists estimate that they are 190 million years old.)
  • Why are scientists unable to say definitely what types of dinosaurs made the prints? (Identification cannot be proven without dinosaur bones.)

Think About the News
Discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students news page. You might use the think-pair-share strategy with students to discuss this question. If you use this strategy

  • First, arrange students into pairs to discuss and list responses to the question.
  • Then merge two pairs of students together to create groups of four students. Have them discuss and add to the ideas they generated in their pairs.
  • Next, merge two groups of four students to form groups of eight students. Have students create a new combined list of ideas.
  • Finally, bring all students together for a class discussion about how scientists might prove the tracks to be made by dinosaurs.

Follow-Up Activities

Social Studies geography. Ask students to identify on a U.S. map the borders of Arizona and Utah, where this weeks news story takes place. Then ask them to identify how many states border Arizona and Utah. (Arizona is bordered by five other states -- California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico -- as well as the country of Mexico. Utah is bordered by six states -- Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.) Then provide students with a U.S. outline map. [alternate map].
--- For younger students: Tell students two states in the United States share their borders with eight other states. Ask them to use their maps to identify the two states that have eight neighbors.
--- For older students: Make the task a bit more difficult. Ask them to use the map to find the state that has the most neighbors (that is bordered by the most states). Their research will tell them that there are actually two states that each have eight neighbors.
--- Answers: Two states -- Tennessee and Missouri -- share their borders with eight states. Tennessee shares its border with Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri. Missouri shares its border with Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska.

Science careers. An archaeologist studies past life and culture based on remains left behind and often dug up. A geologist studies the materials that comprise our planet. What do other scientists and scholars study? Challenge students to tell what each of these scientists do; you might ask them to use library resources to match each type of scientist to what he or she studies.
--- For younger students:

  • biology - study of life
  • botany - study of plants
  • climatology - study of climate
  • futurology - study of future
  • Egyptology - study of ancient Egypt
  • geography - study of surface of the Earth and its inhabitants
  • mammalogy - study of mammals
  • mineralogy - study of minerals
  • musicology - study of music
  • oceanography - study of oceans
    --- For middle-grade students:
  • anatomy - study of the structure of the body
  • anthropology - study of human cultures
  • arachnology - study of spiders
  • audiology - study of hearing
  • cardiology - study of the heart
  • cartography - the science of making maps and globes
  • dermatology - study of skin
  • ecology - study of environment
  • entomology - study of insects
  • genealogy - study of family histories
  • heliology - study of the sun
  • herpetology - study of reptiles and amphibians
  • horticulture - study of gardening
  • ichthyology - study of fish
  • meteorology - study of weather
  • ophthalmology - study of eye diseases
  • podiatry - study of foot disorders
  • seismology - study of earthquakes
  • theology - study of religion and religious doctrine
  • toxicology - study of poisons
    --- For older students:
  • agrology - study of agricultural soils
  • caliology - study of birds nests
  • cetology - study of whales and dolphins
  • chirography - study of handwriting or penmanship
  • dendrology - study of trees
  • epidemiology - study of diseases or epidemics
  • ergonomics - study of people at work
  • etymology - study of origins of words
  • gerontology - study of the elderly and aging
  • graminology - study of grasses
  • graphology - study of handwriting
  • hematology - study of blood
  • oology - study of eggs
  • osteology - study of bones
  • otology - study of the ear
  • pathology - study of disease
  • phrenology - study of bumps on the head
  • semantics - study of meaning
  • thermology - study of heat
  • urbanology - study of cities


Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News question on the news story page.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

National Standards

NS.K-4.3 Life Science
GRADES 5 - 8
NS.5-8.3 Life Science
GRADES 9 - 12
NS.9-12.3 Life Science

NSS-G.K-12.1 The World in Spatial Terms

See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.

Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
Education World®
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