Quantitative Skills > Teaching Resources > Activities > Determining Dinosaur Speeds

Determining Dinosaur Speeds

Carl Edward Renshaw, Gary Dean Johnson, and Karin Facet Kvale

Department of Earth Sciences, Dartmouth College
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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.

Learning Goals

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

Teaching Materials


Student groups can compare their student and dinosaur speed results with the results of the other teams.

References and Resources

Renshaw, Carl E., Johnson, Gary D., Kvale, Karin F., 2000, A Laboratory Exercise on Determining Dinosaur Speeds Using Dimensional Analysis. Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 48, p. 342.

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Special Interest: Quantitative
Quantitative Skills: Geometry and Trigonometry
Use: Enabling Student Investigation, Illustrating concepts and ideas
Quantitative Skills Activity Type: Field Activity, Lab Activity

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