Bizarre Prehistoric Beasts – Day 3

On our last day of camp we learned all about the crazy critters that lived in the Cenozoic Era.  This included things like bear-dogs, big-bad pigs, and sling-shot nosed rhinos!

We started with a 300 piece puzzle that was divided into envelops and given to the students in small increments… oh, and they weren’t allowed to see the picture on the box!  It was used to represent the challenges paleontologists face when piecing back together the geologic record.  You don’t always have all the pieces, and you don’t always know what the outcome will look like.

The first round of envelops is distributed

Teamwork was a vital part of completing the puzzle!

Working hard to complete the picture

Next, different picture cards of bizarre animals were given to each student, and they had to tell us some of the facts about that animal.

Carcharodon megalodon - a giant prehistoric shark

Students then removed their cast from the T. rex molds we made yesterday and started painting them to resemble real fossils…

Carefully painting the tooth cast

Some fossils were brown...

Painting with great concentration

Almost done...

For our final activity, students learned how to construct a field jacket–the giant plaster egg-like container that holds the fossil while in transport from the field to the lab.

Cleaning off real fossils!

Make sure you get all the dirt off

Next, toilet paper is applied with water to cover the fossil to act as a barrier between the plaster and bone.

Sticking the toilet paper to the bone

Covering all the exposed fossil with TP

The toilet paper is then covered with strips of burlap soaked in plaster. This will harden and protect the fossil from any bumps or bruises it may encounter along its journey back to the lab.

Covering the TP with plaster and burlap

Smoothing the surface of the field jacket

Applying the final strips of burlap

This camp was so much fun to teach, and hopefully students had fun learning all about the crazy creatures of Earth’s past! I hope to see many of these campers back for our other summer camps in July when we partner with the National Ranching Heritage Center next door!

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Bizarre Prehistoric Beasts – Day 2

Today at camp we learned all about creepy creatures of the Mesozoic Era, including dinosaurs, swimming and flying reptiles, and other amphibians and lizards that thrived at this time.

We started the afternoon with another mock dig site, this time of a Metoposaur–a giant salamander-like creature from the Triassic!

Measuring the length of the skeleton

How long is the body?

Measuring the disarticulated leg...

Next, we were fortunate enough to have the Assistant Curator of Paleontology, Bill Mueller, show us around the Fossil Prep lab at the Museum!

Bill showing us some Texas geology

Pointing out some current paleo. projects in the lab

Preparing fossils require extreme patience

The sandbox is a great space for holding fossils with wet glue

Which is the original, which is the cast?

An airscribe is used to remove rock from the fossil

Not all fossils are large, some are teeny, tiny!

We headed back to the classroom to review the Geologic Time Scale to learn about the Mesozoic Era.

Hmm... Helicoprion belongs in which Era?

Working together to put fossils with their correct time period

Then, it was important to learn the differences between true dinosaurs, swimming reptiles, and flying reptiles (Pterosaurs are NOT dinosaurs!)

Is this a true dinosaur?

Dinosaurs don't have flippers, either!

Next, we went to check out some dinosaur skeletons in the Changing World gallery. Which dinosaur do you think is the most bizarre?

What do you notice about the skull of Triceratops?

Can you see the chevrons?

Passing around the metoposaur interclavicle (cool!)

How is Chasmosaurus different than Triceratops?

Finally, we finished up by learning how fossil casts are made using molds and plaster. We mixed up our own plaster to pour into T. rex tooth molds!

Mixing the plaster in the water

Make sure you pour plaster into the water, not vice versa!

Carefully pouring the plaster

Once the plaster feels like pancake batter, that means it's ready to pour

Carefully filling the tooth molds...

We will let our T. rex teeth dry overnight and learn how to paint them to mimic real fossils!  We learned a lot about new dinosaurs, and even new non-dinosaurs, today, and we’ll unveil even more bizarre prehistoric creatures tomorrow!

Bizarre Prehistoric Beasts – Day 1

Today was our first day of “Bizarre Prehistoric Beasts” summer camp for kids who are entering 5th and 6th grade.  We spent the day learning about weird creatures that lived in the Paleozoic.

We started the morning by investigating a mock dig site in our classroom…

Sketching the fossil locality

What is the area of our dig site?

Measuring the length of the skull

What's the distance from the nose to the eye?

Recording important data

Next, we reviewed the Geologic Time Scale to learn how many million years ago all these bizarre creatures thrived.

How long ago was the Ordovician?

When were trilobites alive?

We then briefly visited the Dinosaur Gallery to see the full-size dinosaur from our mock dig site.


Why do sauropods have long necks?

We finished the day by learning about the largest extinction event in the history of the Earth–the Permo-Triassic extinction! Since volcanoes played a major role in this extinction, we learned about how volcanoes work and built some of our own!

Crafting a volcano

What shape is a volcano?

Preparing the magma for eruption...

The ash cloud is expanding...

On the verge of a major eruption!

Starting to erupt


The lava is flowing down the sides of the volcano!

Today was a lot of fun! We learned all about mass extinctions, weird creatures of the Paleozoic Era, and how to map a dig site! Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings… 🙂