Cracking open a dinosaur lesson

Kids at the CCC program learn about paleontology and geology

August 05, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Peering through black-rimmed glasses, Alex Horn was poised over a solid block of sand, hammer and chisel in hand.

He hit the block with the small silver instrument, attempting to reach the off-white bones of a creature buried inside. His sister Kelsey, 9, sat nearby, examining her own discoveries - one of many would-be scientists hammering away under the summer sun.

"We thought this was the head of the pterodactyl," said Alex, 8, pointing to a plastic bone in the compressed sand.

It turned out Alex wasn't unearthing the flying dinosaur, but a miniature model of an earthbound triceratops.

His exploits were part of a week's exploration in paleontology and geology, during a camp called "Diggin' for Dinosaurs, Rockin' Rocks and Crystal Creations" at Carroll Community College.

The class is one of several dozen one-week camps offered at the college through Summer Kids@Carroll, a program that ends later this month. Covering such subjects as art, technology and science, Kids@Carroll serves to fill a gap in summer activities.

Dan Weissman, who owns the company that provides the class through Carroll and other colleges and recreation centers, said he launched Super Science to "give kids more time for science and more time for hands-on enrichment."

"In school, the time is limited," said Weissman, who teaches sixth-grade science in New Jersey.

Whether they were poring over the replicated bones of a Tyrannosaurus rex, gasping at the minerals shining in New Jersey rocks or reveling in the amethyst crystals they were given, the kids seemed to share a fascination with prehistoric creatures and the science behind some of earth's unexpected treasures.

When Kelsey and her brother heard about the camp, she said, "we got pretty excited." She and Alex are interested in dinosaurs and their distinct qualities, Kelsey said.

They spent the week exploring some of those qualities, learning about more than T. rex or velociraptor.

"This dinosaur was about 70 feet long," Weissman said during a quiz round with the kids. "It's a slow-moving plant eater."

"Brachiosaurus?" one girl said.

No, Weissman replied. "It's name begins with `a'."

"Apatosaurus?" Jack Purcell, 8, guessed.

"That's right," Weissman said.

He threw another set of characteristics at the group.

"When you think of this one, you might think of its relative, the triceratops," he said.

"Stegosaurus?" a camper ventured.


This dinosaur's fossils were found in the sands of Mongolia, and males were believed to have larger neck frills than females, Weissman said.

"The protoceratops?" Kyle Coale, 9, said.

"You're the winner," the teacher said.

Kyle and fellow campers also had the opportunity to explore their artistic sides, painting the skeletal remains they had dug out of the blocks of sand.

Matt DeLange, 7, had settled on black for his T. rex skull, at least initially. He said he was drawn to the camp because "it just sounded cool."

"What color were dinosaurs?" Weissman asked the kids as they painted.

"Nobody knows," several said.

"That's right. Nobody knows," Weissman said.

Still, Matt seemed inspired to change course.

"Let's paint it white because the bones were white," Matt said to Ryan Weiswender, 8, and Kyle. He dipped his brush into the lighter paint, adding highlights to the now mostly black skull before him.

Weissman said he hopes the camp sparks the kids' interest in science, and encourages them to pursue it further.

He already appeared to have a recruit in Matt, who quickly identified one of the week's highlights.

"I liked pounding away at that rock," the 7-year-old said, smiling.

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