Ted's teaching tips

16th March 2001 at 00:00
In all the debates about what killed off the dinosaurs no one mentions the national curriculum. Pre-history has little place in today's "official" curriculum, yet dinosaurs, once a much beloved school topic, are still endlessly fascinating to children.


What were the dinosaurs (reptiles that existed for 150 million years, until about 66 million years ago, when they became extinct)? Why did they die out when they were so widespread and dominant (many theories, from diet to disease, but the impact of an asteroid and its effect on the Earth's climate and plant growth, when the sun was obscured by dust, may be the most likely reason)? Which is the dinosaur in the picture (triceratops, an eight-metre-long browsing plant-eater with one-metre long horns)? Have all traces of dinosaurs gone for ever (fossils are still being found; there are similarities between birds and small theropod dinosaurs; people still speculate whether it will be possible to recreate them from DNA, as in the film Jurassic Park)?


What sort of museums do you like best (artefacts, costume, industrial, transport, animal)? What museums do you know and which ones would you like to visit? What features do you like to see in a museum and why (costume and period recreations, films, interactive exhibits, animatronics, that is moving lifesize models, as in Disney theme parks)? Design a museum for a particular hobby or interest of yours, such as a sport, collecting, antiues, animals - what would it contain and how would it be laid out to appeal to other people of your age?


Why is this picture funny (unexpected juxtaposition, as in the punchline of a joke; "cheeky" little dog appeals to us; incongruous little and large combination)? What different kinds of humour can you think of (play on words, slapstick, visual, satire, ridicule of the pompous, cartoons, cruel versions of humour that victims dislike, such as sarcasm)? Think of a (clean) joke: why is it funny (it won't be when you analyse it)?


Write some funny captions for the picture (for instance, "Bighead!"; "I don't care if you are eight metres long, give me my ball back"; "Fido! Put that nice triceratops down!") Make up a conversation between the characters.


Should we try to recreate extinct species from DNA?


Species have died out and the world is poorer without them. It would be fascinating to see dinosaurs and mammoths roaming the Earth again. Ethically, this is perfectly justifiable, no different from dog breeding, creating a new rose, or protecting species under threat.


Bringing back the dead is interfering with nature. Extinction is natural. We intervene at our peril, unleashing unpredictable horrors, from undesirable mutations to killers we cannot control. Meat-eating dinosaurs might take over the Earth.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University

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