What Fossils Tell Us

Time: 2.5 Hours (Can Be Shortened) 

Grades: 3-5

Next Generation Science Standard: 3-LS4-1 

How do paleontologists and paleoartists use the evidence that fossils provide to learn about dinosaurs and create paleoart? What clues can fossils tell us about animals and plants that lived long before humans? What can they tell us about Earth's habitats? During this interactive program, your students will use fossils, technology, and art to answer these questions. 

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This new program is based on 3rd grade science standards, but can easily be adapted to older elementary school levels as well. In this program, your students will have multiple lessons about fossils and engage with many different activities.


Introduction Activity - Timelines: 15 Minutes

The first thing your students will do when they come into the museum classroom is to complete an interactive activity based around timelines. First, they'll work in small groups to create a timeline at their table based on the most important moments in their lives. Next, we'll use a 105-foot-long rope to discuss how old Earth has been around. Next, each group will be given a series of card that depict major milestones in the history of the world. They'll work together to place these on a 16.5-foot-long timeline, showing the Earth post the Cambrian Explosion. We'll wrap this activity up by talking about how far all of human existence is from these other moments, and how difficult it can be to learn about plants and animals from so long ago. 


Educational Lesson - What is a Fossil: 15 Minutes

In this lesson, we are going to introduce basic concepts that we'll expand upon during the program. We'll discuss who paleontologists and paleoartists are, and what they do. We'll also dive into what fossils are, how they're formed, and discuss some common differences - like body fossils vs. trace fossils. 


Activity - Can You Outrun a Dinosaur: 15 Minutes

Trace fossils give us so much great information about how dinosaurs moved and ran. This fun activity has your students measure their legs, and then choose which of the dinosaur options we show them have the same length of legs as they do. Afterwards, they'll race off against their dinosaur by comparing the distance they travel to the distance their dinosaur traveled with the same number of steps. 


Education Lesson - What Fossils Tell Us About Animals: 15 Minutes

In this lesson, we'll talk all about the information we can learn from fossil evidence. We'll look at some great examples of how paleontologists compared modern animal bones to dinosaur fossil bones to learn about the dinosaur. We'll also see how this evidence led to changes in how the dinosaurs were depicted in paleoart. 


Activity - What Fossils Tell Us About What Dinosaurs Ate: 20 Minutes

Your students will work in their small groups and use 3D scans of modern animal skulls (shown below) to decide which skulls belonged to carnivores and which belonged to herbivores. They'll create lists of what characteristics are shown in all the carnivore skulls and all the herbivore skulls. Afterwards, they'll be given a model of a dinosaur skull; they'll use the characteristics they came up with to determine if their dinosaur ate plants or meat. 


Activity - What Fossils Tell Us About Dinosaurs Adaptations: 15 Minutes

Your students will be given a paleoartist's sculpture of the same dinosaur they examined in the last activity. They'll choose one adaptation on the dinosaur's body (plates, spikes, size, teeth, claws, beak, etc.) and then - using animals they know today - hypothesize what their dinosaur used that body part for. 


Education Lesson - What Fossils Tell Us About Habitats: 10 Minutes

The last thing we'll do in the museum classroom is to discuss what fossil evidence can tell us about habitats that used to be here millions of years ago. We'll use examine one location in Wyoming (Fossil Butte National Monument) as a case study. Your students will be given four fossils that were found in this area; they'll then have to come up with what habitat they think used to be there. Then, they'll be given four more fossils. How does this change their hypothesis? Finally, we'll give them four more fossils so they can get the full picture. 


Museum Time: 45 Minutes

After our time in the classroom, your students will be able to go explore our new Prehistory Exhibit, and play with the hands-on interactives. You are more than welcome to go upstairs to see the Fossil Butte section of our National Parks Exhibit... or explore the museum however you want. 


Science Next Generation Science Standards: 

This field trip is designed to meet the Next Generation Science Standard 3-LS4-1. This includes:  

  • Disciplinary Core Ideas: LS4.A
  • Crosscutting Concepts: 1, 3, and 6
  • Science and Engineering Practices: 4 and 7 

It has been approved to meet these standards and objectives by the Wyoming State Department of Education Standards Team.

This field trip may also meet other standards for other grades, within LS4 or other Life Science Standards. Feel free to reach out to the Curator of Education if you would like certain elements discussed in your program. 


Funding for this Field Trip:

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IGSM-249033-OMS-21). The views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


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Skull Scans for the "What Fossils Tell Us About What Dinosaurs Ate" Activity

These 3D skull scans were created by the University of Wyoming, and offered free of charge to educational institutions around the world. The Wyoming State Museum thanks the University of Wyoming for their contribution to our educational programming. 

Mystery Animal 1

Mystery Animal 2

Mystery Animal 3

Mystery Animal 4

Mystery Animal 5

Mystery Animal 6

Mystery Animal 7

Mystery Animal 8

Mystery Animal 9

Mystery Animal 10

Mystery Animal 11

Mystery Animal 12


Dinosaur Skulls for the Second Part of the Activity

Classes attending this field trip at the museum will see the items below in person. We're including them below for classes attending this field trip virtually. 

















Dinosaur Model Scans for the "What Fossils Tell Us About Dinosaurs Adaptations" Activity