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Elements Of Biology: Organization In Living Systems Elements-Of-Biology-Organization-In-Living-Systems?

  • Subject: Life Science
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
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  • Duration: 3 class periods

Lesson Plan Sections

Student Objectives

  • Explore recent research about dinosaurs.
  • Compare newer findings with currently accepted ideas.
  • Write a report showing how new findings have changed scientists' ideas about dinosaurs.



  1. Begin the lesson with a discussion about dinosaurs. Ask students what they know about them. Write their responses on a sheet of newsprint. You can expect responses like those listed below:
    • Dinosaurs were reptiles.
    • Most dinosaurs were large and slow moving.
    • Some dinosaurs ate plants, and others ate meat.
    • Dinosaurs died out from an asteroid explosion about 65 million years ago.
  2. Explain to students that paleontologists, or scientists who study fossil remains, continue to uncover new information about dinosaurs. Have students watch the segment "Dino Diet" in the programElements of Biology: Organization in Living Systems ; it explains how paleontologists learn what dinosaurs ate.
  3. Tell students that other scientists have uncovered more information about dinosaurs by following the process similar to that in the segment. Students will read some of the new research and write a paper exploring how new discoveries have challenged some current ideas.
  4. Have students use the Web sites listed below to learn about the new dinosaur research. For your information, a brief summary of the research covered at each site has been included.
    • This article highlights the results of a study of skeletal remains of an Albertosaurus found in Alberta, Canada. Dr. Philip Currie discovered that the animal probably behaved more like a large mammal than a large reptile. He also noted that its survival pattern called into doubt the long-held theory that dinosaurs were wiped out by a catastrophic event. Also, it appears that if the dinosaur survived the first two years of life, it had a strong likelihood of living into young adulthood—about the age of 13.
    • A new body of research based on studies of dinosaur fossils shows that dinosaurs had a very high body temperature—about 91 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degress Celsius). This temperature appeared to change as the dinosaur grew larger. The research suggests that dinosaurs were probably cold-blooded, but they lost body heat very slowly. As a result, they could maintain their body temperatures more efficiently than many modern-day reptiles.
    • Among the research findings highlighted in this article are the following:
      • Many new kinds of dinosaurs are being discovered all the time.
      • Some dinosaurs lived in social groups and nurtured their young.
      • Some dinosaurs could survive in polar regions.
      • Some dinosaurs had feathers, which probably evolved as a form of insulation. It appears that some dinosaurs had birdlike characteristics.
      • A debate continues over how the dinosaurs died out. While many scientists think an asteroid was responsible, others have different theories about the impact of this event on dinosaurs. Some scientists think the initial impact of an asteroid may have caused a fire, which caused the dinosaurs to burn to death. Others think that climate change was responsible for a slower extinction.
      . Scientists have discovered the teeth and gut of a dinosaur that was in the process of changing from a carnivore to an herbivore. The teeth became shaped for shredding plant material, and the gut became paunchy to digest the plant materials.
    •  At one time, scientists thought that dinosaurs whose fossil remains were found in Alaska had migrated to southern climates, but now they think that those dinosaurs survived by eating vegetation that grew along the river. Other discoveries based on this study are that these dinosaurs may have been warm-blooded and their extinction was probably caused by multiple causes, including disease and climate change.
  5. Give students time in class to work on their papers. Have them share their first drafts with a partner for peer editing. Ask students to discuss the changes their classmates suggest and make them if appropriate.
  6. Hold a class discussion about recent dinosaur research. Ask students to summarize the key findings. Then take a quick look at the sheet of newsprint with the ideas that students suggested at the beginning of the lesson. How many of their ideas have changed? What have students learned about the way scientists gain new information?

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • 3 points:  Students carefully and thoughtfully read all the new research; made insightful comparisons between the old and new findings; and wrote an accurate report describing how scientists' ideas about dinosaurs have changed.
  • 2 points:  Students adequately read most of the new research; made some comparisons between the old and new findings; and wrote a satisfactory report describing how scientists' ideas about dinosaurs have changed.
  • 1 point:  Students did not finish reading the new research; had difficulty making comparisons between the old and new findings; and wrote an unsatisfactory report describing how scientists' ideas about dinosaurs have changed.

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Definition: An animal that hunts for its food and eats mostly meat
Context: Tyrannosaurus rex was a voracious carnivore, killing other dinosaurs for food.

Definition: Animals whose body temperature varies with that of their environment
Context: New evidence about dinosaurs is casting doubt on the idea that they were cold-blooded creatures.

Definition: Vertebrate land animals that roamed Earth for 160 million years and died out 65 million years ago
Context: Dinosaurs came in many shapes and sizes, and some were herbivores and others were carnivores.

Definition: Remains such as bones and teeth or an imprint in a rock of an organism that lived long ago
Context: The discovery of dinosaur fossils has led to the development of new theories about them.

Definition: An animal that eats plants
Context: One type of dinosaur changed from being a carnivore to an herbivore, a discovery based on an analysis of its teeth.

Definition: A scientist who specializes in studying fossil remains
Context: After studying the bones and other fossils found in Alberta, paleontologist Phil Currie concluded that large dinosaurs behaved more like mammals than like reptiles.

Definition: An animal that produces heat so that its body temperature remains constant
Context: Most scientists agree that dinosaurs were probably cold-blooded and that they lost body heat very slowly, a characteristic usually seen in warm-blooded animals.

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Academic Standards

National Academy of Sciences
The National Science Education Standards provide guidelines for teaching science as well as a coherent vision of what it means to be scientifically literate for students in grades K-12. To view the standards, visit this Web site:
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:
  • Life Science: Structure and function in living systems; Regulation and behavior
  • History and Nature of Science: Science as a human endeavor
Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:
  • Science: Life Sciences ? Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment
  • Nature of Science ? Understands the scientific enterprise
  • Language Arts: Viewing ? Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media; Writing: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process, Gathers and uses information for research purposes; Reading: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

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