Determining Dinosaur Speeds
In this exercise, students determine how fast a dinosaur was moving based on the tracks it made. It introduces students to concepts of dimensional analysis by having them construct empirical graphs of dimensionless stride length versus dimensionless velocity to determine the track-makers estimated speed. Students are first divided into groups of three and determine their own velocity before using Jurassic theropod track measurements from the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite in Wyoming to determine the dinosaurs' speed. It allows students with minimal quantitative background to become motivated and begin to develop an appreciation for dimensional analysis as they see whether or not they could outrun the track-making dinosaurs. Measurements from any dinosaur track site can be used in this activity.
- Develop basic graph interpretation skills.
- Begin to understand quantitative and dimensional analysis.
Context for Use
This activity is designed for any secondary school or college level introductory earth-science course and is meant to be implemented during a laboratory session or at a field site.
Teaching Notes and Tips
- Graphing will be facilitated with the use of a spreadsheet program such as Excel.
- Have one student in each three-student group keep time, measure distance, and take notes so that all students are responsible for part of the activity.
- Measuring Instruments
- Dinosaur Track Measurement Dataset
- Graphing paper or computer with a spreadsheet program
- Get additional information and dinosaur track maps from the Red Gulch site from the Bureau of Land Management.
Student groups can compare their student and dinosaur speed results with the results of the other teams.
References and Resources
Controlled Vocabulary Terms
Quantitative Skills: Geometry and Trigonometry
Use: Enabling Student Investigation, Illustrating concepts and ideas
Quantitative Skills Activity Type: Field Activity, Lab Activity