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Dinosaur scientists for a day

Lynd students examine teeth and bones from Science Museum of Minnesota

Photo by Karin Elton Shaila Chavarria, a Lynd Public School second-grader, holds onto an actual moose femur and a plastic model of a human femur so her fellow students could compare them to a replica of diplodocus femur held up by Jessica Holm, an Science Museum of Minnesota instructor.

LYND — How can you tell if an animal is a carnivore or an herbivore by just looking at a tooth? If it’s a sharp pointy one, it’s probably a carnivore, which needs teeth good for ripping flesh off the bone.

Lynd elementary students in grades kindergarten through second grade received a crash course in paleontology Wednesday in the school gym.

They learned about teeth and bones from Jessica Holm, an instructor at the Science Museum of Minnesota, who was in the area this week, driving down from St. Paul. She gave a presentation in Brewster the day before and Lamberton the day after.

Holm said she was a total “dinosaur nerd” when she was younger and loves talking about dinosaurs to youngsters.

“Dinosaurs are one of my very favorite things in the world to talk about,” she said.

They were an attentive — and well-versed — audience. When she asked the young grade-schoolers the names of their favorite dinosaurs, they responded with “stegosaur,” “triceratops” and “megalodon.”

She asked them if they knew what the word, “paleontologist” meant and most hands shot up.

“How many of you have ever seen a movie or TV show about dinosaurs?” she asked and once again almost everyone’s hands were raised.

“How many of you have ever read a book about dinosaurs?” she said after which all the children raised their hands.

“How many of you have gone out in the morning and have seen your neighbor walk his pet dinosaur?” she said, and a few arms were raised which elicited giggles all around.

She asked if dinosaurs were still around.

“They used to be a long, long time ago,” a girl replied.

Holm said she wanted to make them all dinosaur scientists for the day. She told them the reason we know about dinosaurs today is because they “left prints. Foot prints, tail prints, fossils. Sometimes we find dinosaur eggs.”

“And teeth,” said a student.

“Dinosaurs left behind a lot of evidence for us paleontologists to find,” Holm said. “One of our most important jobs as paleontologists is to observe that evidence, look closely and think about what it is we’re seeing.”

She pulled out a curved fossil from her bag of tricks that she brought from the Science Museum.

“Let’s describe this, what it looks like, its shape, its color and size,” Holm said.

“It looks like a wave,” a student said. “It looks like a tooth,” another one said.

“It’s a claw from a deinonychus, which means ‘terrible claw,” Holm said, adding that it was found in the state of Wyoming.

“We don’t find the soft, squishy parts like eyeballs,” she said.

Holm said “pressure and time” turns something into a fossil, noting that it “takes 10,000 years to become a fossil.”

Holm talked about bones and what people can learn from them. She had volunteer Shaila Chavarria, a second-grader, hold onto a plastic model of a human bone and told them it was a replica of a human femur. Holm held up an actual femur bone from an animal found “here in Minnesota now so it’s not a dinosaur.”

The students guessed from its size and thickness that it might be a lion, horse or a great big dog.

“This is a moose femur,” Holm said. She then hauled out a replica of a femur from a diplodocus and had Ben Villeda-Duran, a first-grader, hold that.

“The diplodocus was almost 90 feet long so its tail would go out the gym doors and be almost as tall as the lights up in the gym ceiling,” she said. “They had to get all the way to the tops of trees to eat leaves. They need big, thick bones to hold up a heavy body.”

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