Implementation of “The Little Paleontologists” (SOI-HR-488)

Ana Šuman, Biology and Science teacher, Jordanovac Primary School, Hospital School at University Hospital Centre Zagreb, Croatia


I implemented the Europeana teaching scenario – The Little Palaeontologists (LS-RO-283) in the teaching of students participating in a temporary form of teaching during hospital treatment.

The teaching scenario is included in the subjects Nature and Biology with the integration of the content of Art and Geography.

Six students aged 12 to 14 participated in the study, according to their own choice and prior agreement with the medical team, including three 6th graders and three 8th graders.

The place where the class was held was in the classroom space at the Pediatric Clinic of the Zagreb University Hospital Centre.

Duration of scenario implementation planned as a single unit of daily teaching through four school hours of 45 minutes. The participation of the individual student in the lesson is always flexible, depending on the student’s capabilities, needs and other circumstances that accompany the teaching in the hospital.

Teaching in a health institution is a temporary form of educational program support for students with health problems.

Jordanovac Primary School, in accordance with educational regulations, the National Curriculum for Primary Education, good pedagogical practice and students’ developmental needs, conducts classes in a health facility for students who are being treated at the University Hospital Centre Zagreb. As a teacher of Nature and Biology, I have 26 years of teaching experience in a hospital.

Teaching at the hospital is individually adapted to the educational and developmental needs, possibilities and interests of the students and is available to all students, regardless of their health status, diagnosis, length of stay in the hospital or the country they come from.

Classes are conducted in small groups or through individual lessons, often by the hospital bed.

Although the educational needs of individual students in hospital classes differ significantly, we strive to contribute to the overall personal development of students with individually adapted classes, ensure the continuity of education, encourage the development of self-confidence, influence the reduction of stress due to hospitalization, facilitate the continuation of schooling after all treatment and, in general, through educational activities contribute to the quality and fulfillment of the child’s life in the present and future.

In carrying out educational work with students in the hospital, we cooperate as a team with the medical staff, the students’ parents and the students’ home school, encouraging the maintenance of students’ connections with their peers in their classes, as well as reintegration into classes at the home school after the end of participation in classes at the hospital.

The Little Palaeontologists (LS-RO-283) teaching scenario content and activities are stimulating for teaching science concepts and developing science literacy. It is planned for teaching students of a lower chronological age, but as learning in the hospital is individually adapted to the student and takes place in very specific conditions, the scenario is suitable for acquiring fundamental knowledge and is almost completely incorporated into our lesson.

I upgraded the initial scenario, in accordance with the age, capabilities and previous knowledge of the students in the group, with additional thematic content, activities and natural history concepts.

A special value in the implemented scenario is the activity of assembling a paper model of a dinosaur skeleton. In terms of education, this activity is suitable for acquiring knowledge about the structure plan of vertebrates and stimulating for the development of natural science skills. In the educational aspect, it encourages mutual communication and cooperation of students with active participation, creating a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere during work. Also, no less important, the activity is feasible and practical because it requires little material preparation because the spatial and material conditions of teaching in the hospital are very specific and limited in terms of space and material.

The learning activities took place for a group of students who differ in age, come from different schools, did not know each other until the beginning of the lesson, differ in the regularity of the previous course of education and the length of the previous absence from classes before joining classes in the hospital.

For the sake of the heterogeneity of the group of students and meeting the primary emotional and psychological needs of the children in the hospital, the basic determinants of educational work are focused on getting to know the students, developing mutual communication, and creating a stimulating environment and atmosphere for learning.

Each student in the group has unique educational needs and opportunities and requires a unique approach to teaching and individually adapted scope and forms of educational support. At the same time, on the educational level, I try to optimize teaching according to the possibilities, abilities and interests and current educational needs of the individual student.

1. The narrative (Learning process/Stages of implementation)

Key terms of the lesson for 6th and 8th grade students in the subjects of Nature and Biology:

– biodiversity, living conditions, adaptability and variability of organisms, biological evolution, scientific approach, fossils, paleontology, extinction and survival of species, interdependence of living beings and the environment, climate changes in the Earth’s past, relatedness of organisms, nature protection, sustainable development.

List of lesson contents and activities:

A) Diversity of the animal world on the example of living and extinct species

B) Fossils and paleontology

C) Europeana – digital platform of European cultural heritage

D) The activity of assembling a model of a dinosaur skeleton

E) Dinosaurs – extinct reptiles

F) Dinosaur fossils in Croatia

G) Activities of free creative expression related to the topic of the lesson

In the introductory part, students get to know the use of the Nearpod digital tool, in which interactive tasks are created that accompany the learning activities.

The Nearpod digital lesson is applied in a modality that enables each student to learn at their own pace (student-paced) and the content is differentiated according to the age of the student. Links to digital assignments and activities for students:

– 6th grade:

– 8th grade:

Digital lessons with tasks that accompany the learning and teaching in the lesson are available here.

2. Presentation of the course of the learning and teaching process

A) The diversity of the animal world on the example of living and extinct species

A 1.) Introductory activity Memory game – biodiversity on the example of living and extinct species of animals

Through the memory game, students independently solve task number 1 in the Nearpod digital collection by connecting pictures of animals with the name of the animal.

Figure 1. Interactive digital memory game

A 2.) Distribution of animals into groups, animal ecology, living conditions, adaptations to living conditions, extinct species

After solving task number 1, I encourage a conversation about the animals from the memory game. As it is a temporary, newly formed and non-permanent group of students of different ages, prior knowledge and previous learning experiences, the feedback I receive serves me to adjust the extent and intensity of the content, course and pace of teaching.

Some of the questions that guide the conversation:

– Which animals from the game have you seen in nature?

– In which habitats do these animals live?

– What is the way of life of these animals? How do they feed, move, reproduce?

– Sort the animals from the game into invertebrates and vertebrates.

– Name some other types of invertebrates and vertebrates that are not shown in the memory game.

– In which groups do we classify the vertebrates shown in the game?

– Which animals from the memory game live in Croatia?

– Which animals live today, and which lived in Earth’s distant past?

– What does it mean when a species is extinct? Why do species become extinct?

– Do species of living things become extinct today?

– How do we know that dinosaurs existed?

– How do we learn about extinct forms of life?

– Do you know any other extinct species from the past?

– What are the remains of extinct plants and animals called?

– Which science studies extinct life forms?

B) Fossils and paleontologists

I introduce the students to the systematic way of taking notes during learning in a category table in which they write down new information, unknown or insufficiently clear concepts and their explanations.

Students work in two groups formed in such a way that each group has younger and older students. They use the Internet and text sources of knowledge to learn. By mutual agreement, the groups choose the terms and processes they will investigate: fossils, ways of fossil formation, diversity of fossil finds, paleontology, extinction of species, dinosaurs. During learning, students fill in the category table.

Figure 2. Students use text sources of knowledge
Figure 3. Keeping student records during learning
Figure 4. Student record

Students in a group present their records in a category table. They jointly comment, supplement and correct the records made during the study.

As the students predominantly used Internet sources of knowledge in the activity, I focus the conversation on the appropriateness of the content used for learning needs, the assessment of the accuracy and credibility of the content on those sites, and why it is important to use reliable sources of knowledge for learning.

C) Europeana – digital platform of European cultural heritage

I introduce students to Europeana as a digital platform of European cultural heritage with diverse and reliable sources that can be used in learning all subjects.

I inform the students about the access and search of Europeana, the basic thematic areas in which the materials are distributed and the terms of use of the materials.

According to their own choice, students, independently or in pairs, search pictorial and textual sources related to the terms: fossils, dinosaurs, paleontology.

Examples of sources students have reviewed:

– Fossilized dinosaur bones – drawing:

– Dinosaur tridactyl prints:

– Fossil plate with dinosaur limb bones:

We reviewed and analyzed, for our lesson, several valuable sources of Europeana that show the work of paleontologists in the field when excavating dinosaur fossils in Africa, field diaries of paleontologists from the first half of the 20th century, and Archaeopteryx fossil.

Since we are working with sources that are protected by copyright, which allows use only for educational purposes, in this example we particularly emphasize the importance of respecting copyright when creating project, seminar and final papers during education.

Students observe selected sources from Europeana, comment together and present ideas on how the selected source can be used in learning.

Systematization is done by solving the digital quiz Fossils and paleontology (task number 2) in the digital collection.

After solving the quiz, students receive feedback on the accuracy of their answers, and the additional questions we discuss encourage a deeper understanding of the topic and act as an incentive to continue learning:

– What is the significance of fossils for understanding life on Earth?

– Describe how scientists study fossils.

– What information about life in the past do scientists get by studying fossils?

Figure 5. Example of a question from the Fossils and Paleontology digital quiz

D) Dinosaur skeleton model assembling activity

Students in groups or pairs assemble a skeleton model of an extinct animal species according to the text with instructions:

  • After several years of research, scientists found the bones of an unknown animal in the soil.
    The bones they discovered were scattered and disjointed into a skeleton.
    During this research, the scientists also found the remains of extinct plants, which they assume are giant ferns that grew on land at the same time as the animals whose bones they found lived.
    After carefully excavating the bones, scientists marked and photographed the bones. In the field work diary, they described each bone in detail, entered the exact location of the place where each bone was found and all other information that can contribute to determining what kind of extinct animal it is.
  • So far we don’t have the opportunity and luck to be paleontologists and research real fossils, so in our class we will do an activity similar to the work of paleontologists.
    Assemble the skeleton of an extinct animal from the paper bone model.
    Agree and cooperate during work.
    Take an envelope with paper bones, glue and paper.
    Assemble the skeleton the way you think is right. Be sure to use and apply your previous knowledge.
    When you have assembled the animal skeleton, present your work to others.
  • Before starting the activity of assembling the skeleton, I instruct the students to be careful in their work and to cooperate with each other. I point out the importance of precision, systematicity and mutual cooperation of students in a team, just as scientists cooperate during research.

Before starting the activity of assembling the skeleton, I instruct the students to be careful in their work and to cooperate with each other. I point out the importance of precision, systematicity and mutual cooperation of students in a team, just as scientists cooperate during research.

Some of the questions I ask:

– Why is it important to describe in detail and record data on all phases of research in nature?

– What are the advantages of mutual cooperation between scientists from different fields of science?

– In what ways do scientific discoveries promote the understanding of phenomena and processes in nature?

– Why is it important to explain phenomena and processes in nature on a scientific basis?

Figure 6. Assembling the skeleton model of an extinct animal- a group of younger students
Figure 7. Assembling the skeleton model of an extinct animal-a group of older students

After the students present the skeleton model they assembled, we discuss the animal whose skeleton they assembled. As it is a skeleton of a species known to the students, Tyrannosaurus rex, the students demonstrate a variety of knowledge.

By working on textual sources, students compare previous knowledge with new knowledge. With directed questions, I encourage conversation and connection of previous knowledge, understanding of the connection between living beings and the environment, emphasizing the variability of living beings, connecting the variability of living beings with changes in living conditions during the Earth’s past:

– What parts of the skeleton does a dinosaur have?

– According to the structure of the skeleton, in which group of animals do we classify dinosaurs?

– Based on the structure of the skeleton, describe how this dinosaur moved?

– How do you think the dinosaur ate? How do you conclude that?

– Can you imagine what this dinosaur looked like?

– When did dinosaurs live on Earth?

– Based on previous knowledge and experience, do you know what kind of dinosaur it is?

– What other types of dinosaurs do you know?

– How did these dinosaurs move? How did they feed themselves?

– Which groups of living beings lived in the age of dinosaurs?

– In which group of vertebrates do we classify dinosaurs?

– How did scientists find out about the existence of dinosaurs, about their appearance and way of life?

Students write new knowledge in the form of notes in a category table that they keep during the lesson.

Part of the students kept the assembled models of dinosaur skeletons to show their work from classes at the hospital in their home school, and we exhibited one model of the skeleton together outside the classroom so that the work could be seen by other patients, staff and visitors to the hospital.

Figure 8. Student work displayed in the hospital area

E) Dinosaurs – extinct reptiles

E 1.) Common characteristics of vertebrates and division of vertebrates into groups

By working on the text, students distinguish the common characteristics of vertebrates and repeat the division of vertebrates into classes. For each class of vertebrates, they distinguish the basic characteristics of the group – characteristics of external appearance, body covering, mode of movement and reproduction, adaptation to habitats, existence of a constant or changing body temperature.

We systematize what we have learned with the game of classifying vertebrates into groups:

The students are divided into two groups, each group writes down as many types of vertebrates as possible on paper within a few minutes.

The representative of the group reads aloud the written species, and students from the other group, after joint consultation, classify the animals into appropriate groups according to common characteristics and relatedness – fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals).

E 2.) Film Dinosaurs 101 | National Geographic

With Croatian translation available, students watch a short video Dinosaurs 101 | National Geographic. Collaboratively analyzed the video using a geological time scale/spiral adapted to the students’ ages.

With the geological time scale and data from the National Geographic videos, students approximately determine the time in which dinosaurs lived, observe plant and animal life, investigate living conditions from that geological period and compare living conditions in the past and today.

Questions for the oral analysis of the film:

– When did dinosaurs appear on Earth?

– In what time range did dinosaurs live on Earth?

– What is the name of the geological age in which dinosaurs lived?

– What were the climatic conditions on Earth during the age of the dinosaurs?

– How do scientists detect changes in living conditions during the Earth’s past?

– Compare living conditions on Earth in the age of dinosaurs and today.

– Approximately how many types of dinosaurs have scientists discovered so far?

– Compare the arrangement of the continents in the age of dinosaurs and today.

– On which continents were dinosaur fossils found?

– In what ways did dinosaurs move?

– Can you relate the way dinosaur skeletons are built to the way they move?

– How did the dinosaurs feed?

– What physical adaptations did dinosaurs develop in the way of eating?

– What event caused or triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs?

– When did the dinosaurs die out?

– Explain the meaning of an extinct species.

– What are the reasons for the extinction of species?

– What changes in living conditions occurred after the asteroid impact?

– How did the changes in living conditions after the asteroid impact affect the plants and animals of that era?

– Can you connect the variable body temperature of reptiles with the inability to adapt to the sudden onset of cold conditions on Earth?

– Explain how it is possible that some dinosaurs survived and developed into new forms of living beings?

– Which group of vertebrates evolved from surviving dinosaurs?

Figure 9. Watching the movie Dinosaurs 101/National Geographic

E 3.) Reptiles then and now

Using a comparison of a drawing of a dinosaur and a photograph of a lizard, students compare the features of their external appearance. Observations and comparisons contribute to the understanding of the evolutionary development of the living world through the development of adaptations of living beings to living conditions.

Students write down observations. I direct observations and comparisons by asking questions:

– In which group of animals do we classify dinosaurs and lizards?

– What characteristics do these animals have in common?

– What are the differences between these animals?

– Can you explain the existence of differences between these living creatures that belong to reptiles?

– What features allowed lizards to survive?

– What other groups of reptiles, apart from lizards, live on Earth today?

– Can you explain why, after the extinction of the dinosaurs, there could be an accelerated development and spread of mammals?

– What is evolution?

– What is the role of fossils in understanding evolution?

Students solve the digital quiz Evolution and Dinosaurs in the digital Nearpod collection.

In addition, 8th grade students, based on previously acquired knowledge, solve an additional task in the digital collection on the evolutionary development of vertebrates.

Students of the 8th grade, along with the geological time scale, name geological ages and compare the duration of geological ages, notice changes in the position of the continents in the geological past. They observe the diversity and evolutionary development of living beings, associate the appearance and extinction of large groups of animals with the inability to adapt to changes in the environment, and associate the survival and further evolutionary development of groups and species with successful adaptations.

Figure 10. Comparison of the external appearance of lizards and dinosaurs

F) Dinosaur fossils in Croatia

The students in the group come from different parts of Croatia, they have diverse experiences of visiting and learning about native parts of nature. When learning about certain protected areas, the group often includes students who have visited these areas because they live near them.

I ask the students a motivational question: Are there dinosaur fossil sites in Croatia?

The question prompted the student to present her experience and impressions after visiting the dinosaur footprint site on the Brijuni Islands.

F 1.) Legal protection of fossils and dinosaur fossil sites in Croatia

The introductory conversation focuses on the importance of nature protection and the procedures by which the state and the local community protect natural resources. Students investigate the reasons for the adoption of the Nature Protection Act.

Students list the National Parks and Park Approaches and other categories of protected natural objects in their homeland, describe natural values, share personal experiences and experiences when visiting these parts of nature.

We learn about the legal protection, natural value, diversity and causes of the endangerment of fossils and sites and fossils in Croatia using the original form of the regulation Decision on the declaration of dinosaur fossils and their sites as protected parts of nature. Students divided into two groups read one part of the Decision each.

The first group of students, after reading the text, jointly writes the answers to these questions:

– How many dinosaur fossil sites are there in Croatia?

– What are the reasons for declaring dinosaur fossils legally protected parts of nature?

– Where are protected dinosaur fossils kept?

After reading the text, 2nd group of students jointly writes the answers to these questions:

– What types of dinosaur fossils were found in Croatia?

– How many dinosaur bone sites are there in Croatia, and how many footprint sites are there?

– What human activities threaten dinosaur fossil sites in Croatia?

The groups present the answers, we comment on the answers, we discuss the significance and threat of dinosaur fossils in Croatia. In the conversation, I focus special emphasis on the importance of preservation and additional protection of fossil sites in localities in areas where tourism is carried out. On the geographical map of Croatia, students find the locations of fossil sites in Croatia.

Figure 11. Dinosaur fossils in Croatia

F 2.) Our dinosaur fossils – dinosaur footprints and bone findings

To learn about dinosaur fossils, we use the site’s educational resources: Nacionalnog parka Brijuni i Obrazovnog portala Hrvatskog geografskog društva.

Students get to know the basic characteristics of dinosaur fossils in Croatia, analyze photos of dinosaur footprint fossil sites, describe the natural features of the coastal rocks on which footprints are found, and observe representations of the reconstruction of the appearance of dinosaurs made on the basis of fossil finds.

From internet sources and photos from personal archives, students learn about the underwater dinosaur bone sites in the sea near Bale in Istria.

Students investigate the appearance of dinosaur fossil footprints, observe reconstructions of the appearance of dinosaurs, connect lifestyles with living conditions and the era when dinosaurs lived in Istria.

They compare the reconstruction of the appearance of the dinosaur from Istria that moved on two legs and the reconstruction of the appearance of the Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur whose skeleton model they put together in the first part of the lesson.

They compare the similarities and differences of bipedal Istrian dinosaurs and similar types of dinosaurs that lived in other parts of the Earth at the same time.

We systematize what we have learned by solving the quiz Dinosaur Fossils in Croatia in the digital Nearpod collection.

Figure 12. From the quiz Dinosaur fossils in Croatia

G) Activities of free creative expression related to the topic of the lesson

The final part of the lesson includes activities of free creative expression related to the learning topic, actualization of teaching and reflection.

Most of the students decided to freely express themselves creatively with an artistic expression with the theme of an imaginary or reconstructed appearance of a dinosaur. One student expressed herself through written creativity.

Content update

We update the content and connect the topic of extinction of species in the Earth’s past with the extinction of species in the present by discussing the following questions:

– What do you know about the extinction of species of living beings that are happening in the present?

– What is the influence of man on the extinction of species?


Students could present their reflection on the lesson orally or by digitally entering the answer to an open-ended question in the Nearpod digital collection:

– what was the most interesting during learning,

– satisfaction with their participation in learning,

– proposal for changes and additions to the lesson,

– what you did not understand well,

– what you want to learn more about.

We put all the students’ works together in the form of a mini-exhibition in the classroom at the hospital.

Figure 13. Drawing of a dinosaur
Figure 14. Drawing of a dinosaur
Figure 15. Drawing of a dinosaur

3. Outcomes for students and teacher

By implementing scenarios in the subjects of Nature and Biology, as part of the National Curriculum for Primary Education, during learning and teaching, the subject outcomes are covered:

Subject: Nature (Science)

– curriculum macro concept Organization of nature with the educational outcome “Student explains the basic structure of nature”,

– curriculum macro-concept Processes and interactions with educational outcomes: “Student explains the mutual relations of living beings with regard to the common habitat” and “Student discusses the importance of maintaining a balanced state in nature and the causes of its disturbance”,

– curriculum macro concept Natural science approach with the outcomes “Student interprets observed phenomena, processes and relationships based on observation of nature and simple research” and “Student explains basic principles of science and relationships between science, technology and social progress”.

Subject: Biology

– curriculum macro concept Organization of the living world with the educational outcome “Connects the complexity of structures with the development of new properties along with the classification of organisms using different criteria, indicating their kinship and diversity”,

– curriculum macro concept Processes and interactions in the living world with the educational outcome “Analyzes the influence of living conditions on the development of adaptations and biodiversity”,

– curriculum macro concept Natural science approach with the outcome “Applies the basic principles of scientific methodology and explains the obtained results”.

In the lesson, the connection with the educational outcomes of the other teaching subjects was made:

Subject: Geography

– curriculum concept Sustainability with an educational outcome “The student differentiates categories of nature protection, cites examples of protected natural and cultural heritage in Croatia, explains the importance of protected areas and localities as an economic potential and an element of identity, and participates in activities to preserve and adequately value heritage at the local, regional and national level”.

Subject: Art

– curriculum domain Creativity and productivity with the educational outcome “The student demonstrates fine motor skills by using and varying different art materials and procedures in his own artistic expression”.

Generic competencies

Students with health problems due to frequent and long-term absences from regular classes represent an extremely vulnerable student population.

I direct the pedagogical and methodological approach to teaching students in the hospital towards the development of interconnected knowledge, skills and attitudes that are the basis of quality education in the present, regardless of the circumstances and difficulties that accompany learning in the hospital, and the successful work and life of students in the future.

Generic competencies developed during the lesson are: creativity and innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, managing personal and professional development, connecting with others, communication, cooperation, information and digital literacy.

Outcomes for students

Based on the completed learning activities, the student knows and can perform:

– Describes the characteristics of living beings,

– Observes the interdependence of living beings and the environment,

– Describes and compares the external appearance of animal species, noting similarities and differences,

– Distinguishes the most important groups of animals,

– Sorts animals into groups based on observed common features,

– Describes what fossils are and how fossils are formed,

– Explains the importance of fossils as evidence of changing living conditions in the past and the development of the living world,

– Using examples, he describes the adaptability and changeability of animals,

– Connects the inability to adapt to changes in living conditions with the extinction of species,

– Describes evolution as the development of the living world,

– Distinguishes scientific from non-scientific interpretations of natural laws and processes

– Discusses the importance of preserving and protecting nature,

– Discusses the impact of humans on biodiversity,

– Analyzes the regulation on the protection of parts of nature,

– Lists the reasons for the endangerment of fossils and dinosaur fossil sites in Croatia,

– They participate in conversation and discussion,

– Makes a skeleton model,

– Solves digital tasks,

– Systematically and transparently records data, information and observations during learning,

– It is expressed orally, in writing and in art,

– They independently search and evaluate sources of knowledge.

Photos and teaching materials of the implementation of the Europeana teaching scenario are available here.

Implemented teaching scenario:  The Little Palaeontologists (LS-RO-283)

Do you want to discover more stories of implementation? Click here.

CC BY 4.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana and has been provided by the The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

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