Are You Smarter Than a Dinosaur?

Martin B. Farley
University of North Carolina-Pembroke
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  1. This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

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This page first made public: Jun 4, 2009


Students investigate the intelligence of dinosaurs by comparing the relative size of brain and body mass to living animals.

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undergraduate paleontology course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Graphing data
Students with a basic background in major dinosaur groups and the common experience of getting "information" from the movies.

How the activity is situated in the course

stand-alone exercise


Content/concepts goals for this activity

paleoecologic interpretation of vertebrate function

understand the importance of context in understanding paleontologic data, in this case, the importance of the data on living animals

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Student analysis using real data
See levels of uncertainty in real data; fitting lines by eye to noisy data.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

Students investigate the intelligence of dinosaurs by comparing the relative size of brain and body mass to living animals. Students plot the living animals to determine a general relationship of brain and body mass and then use that relation to interpret a range of dinosaurs. The activity gives students practice in graphical data comparison and other methods of data analysis. Students also investigate how well this method works and what weaknesses it might have.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I examine student graphs, analyze their slope calculations (they don't always get it right), and evaluate their answers to the thought questions.

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