Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Paleontology - Dinovember STEAM Program

Dinovember, dinosaur STEM STEAM program, dinosaur activities

Well, I will start off by saying that I was overly ambitious in planning this Dinovember program, and it was more labor intensive than I expected it to be. We didn't get to do everything I planned, and it took both more prep and clean-up time than expected, BUT I had a great turnout and everyone seemed to really enjoy it. [As always, click on any image to see it full size.]

Ages: 5-10

Time: 1 hour (clean up time was an additional hour)

Number: 18 participants (for more than 12 I highly recommend an additional staff member)

Budget: Approximately $45 (but had leftover consumables, as well as reusable items)

Activity #1 - Making a Plaster Cast 

Since it is difficult to remove fossilized footprints without ruining them, and preferable to leave them where they are for others to see, paleontologists often make plaster casts of them instead.

  • some type of clay (I used salt dough)
  • plastic dinosaurs (9"-12" figures work best)
  • cooking spray
  • plaster of paris
  • salt*
  • water
  • flexible plastic strips (I used a laminating pouch) stapled to make circles about 2-3" in diameter
  • measuring cups & spoons
  • craft sticks that have previously been dipped in plaster and cured*
  • flat trays or waxed cardboard
  • small disposable cup
  • small disposable plates
    Plaster cast of dinosaur footprints
  1. Give each child or group (I had them in groups of 3) a tray and some clay to flatten on the tray (or do in advance). Then give them plastic dinosaurs to "walk" through the mud to make footprints (you can also leave skin impressions). Lightly spray with cooking spray.
  2. Instruct the participants to place their flexible plastic circle around some nice footprints.
  3. Measure out 1/4C plaster powder into a small cup and add 2 good pinches of salt, then add 2 T water and stir with the "dirty" end of the craft stick until smooth, and pour into the plastic circle. Let set for at least 20 minutes (the longer the better).
  4. Once the plaster is set, remove the plastic ring and VERY carefully remove the plaster cast from the clay and set on the paper plate. At this point it is still fragile and will break easily. Carefully clean off any clay sticking to the cast.
  5. Leave the plaster cast on the plate and let it cure for 24-48 hours. At this point it will be hard and able to be handled. In the finished cast pictured are footprints from three different dinosaurs, as well as some skin impressions.
*Plaster is normally mixed 2 parts plaster to 1 part water and takes about an hour to set. Adding salt to the mixtures speeds this up (but adding too much also weakens the plaster). In addition, stirring the mixture with sticks that are coated with cured plaster provides crystals to seed the reaction, further speeding it up so that it will set in 10-15 minutes. 
Activity #2 - Excavation! 

There are many different ways to do this, but this worked really well (though messy). If possible, do outdoors, or at least on a non-carpeted floor. I wanted it to be more than simply sifting through sand, but also material that was easy enough to dig through in the amount of time we had, and somewhat simulate different layers of earth/rock.

  • Salt dough (it takes a lot!) made in several batches, each colored slightly different earth tones.
  • Optional additions to make it interesting (rock salt, aquarium gravel, etc.)
  • Hard plastic dinosaur skeletons that come in pieces that can be put together (I found a set of 3 for about $15 from Amazon)
  • Something to use for dirt (I used a mixture of used coffee grounds, cornmeal, and salt)
  • Disposable aluminum pans
  • Variety of tools (plastic knives, spoons, skewers, paintbrushes, toothbrushes, etc.)
  1. I first put a thin layer of salt dough in each pan, sprinkled a few pieces of rock salt on it and baked at 250 F for 2 hours and then let cool to provide a hard rock base layer. This step is not necessary if you'd rather skip it to save time and materials, but I really wanted to create at least 3 different layers.
  2. Next, I added a second, thicker layer of salt dough in a different color, and pressed the dinosaur bones into it, partially covering them, and baked at 200 for 45 minutes, then let cool. This made it firm and dry, but not hard.
  3. Finally, I covered with a layer of "dirt".
  1. I made up a total of 6 8x8 pans, and half the bones of one dinosaur went into each one. I labeled them A, B, or C so I would later know which pans went together.
  2. I gave each group of 3 kids one pan, along with assorted tools, reminding them they have to be careful not to damage the fossils (they WILL make a mess). Once all bones have been unearthed, then groups combined to assemble their skeletons. They often found they had to do a little more cleaning to get them to snap together properly.

    Some kids got bored or frustrated at this point, and wandered over to play with our large toy dinosaurs I had off to the side (they have been starring in my Dinovember "What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night" after escaping, and the ones that our young patrons have helped us capture were at the program) or to draw dinosaurs on the dry erase tables, but a few of them and a couple of moms really got into it and would not give up until they had the skeleton fully assembled.
I also had my large dinosaur skeletons (about the size of a
German shepherd) for the kids to look at and take pictures with.

How It Went

Overall, it went well, but I did not get a chance to do everything I wanted. In addition to these two activities, I had intended on showing them a number of real fossils; no dinos, unfortunately, but a lot of others that can be found in our area, even microscopic fossils in diatomaceous earth, but there was just no time.

The first activity took twice as long as I had expected, because (1) people weren't listening or following directions, and (2) there were several latecomers, so I had to stop and repeat or start over several times. I was torn about whether to make the footprints ahead of time and let the dough dry hard to save time and be more like rock, and I now wish that's what I had done. All but one of the plaster casts set, but a few broke because of rough handling or not pouring all the plaster
in and making it thicker, and thus stronger.

The excavation worked really, really well and the kids clearly enjoyed that the most, and some of the parents really got into it, too. I would highly recommend the skeleton set I bought, even if they did send us two stegosauruses and no T. rex. It did make a huge mess, and I spent a full hour cleaning up. I would have had a layer of slightly damp, packed "dirt" and only a thin layer of loose dirt on top, but I didn't have time as the dinosaur skeletons didn't arrive until the day of the program!

I wish we'd had time to do some of the fossils, especially because that was the main reason the oldest child came, but I'll have to figure out some other program to do where that can be the focus. I really felt bad when he asked about them and I had to say we just didn't have time and I hadn't even had a chance to unpack them. I would've been happy to show him some afterward if my shift wasn't already over and I still had all the clean-up to do.

In hindsight, the plaster casting and excavation activities were too much to do together. If I had it to do over again, I'd just do one of them along with looking at real fossils, and spend a little more time talking about the science of paleontology, how fossils develop, and how they are found, and the individual fossils. 

I definitely learned my lesson about being overly ambitious and overplanning! But next month's program will have no prep and virtually no clean-up, so it balances out. Plus I got to channel Ms. Frizzle and wear this super cute dinosaur dress 😉

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Dinovember Family Storytime

Dinosaur storytime
I chose to do Dinosaur themes for both my programs this month, which grew into a whole Dinovember campaign, and while I have favorite books for this theme, I challenged myself to use books I had not used before

I had a great CD of dinosaur songs, Wee Sing Dinosaurs, that my daughter used to listen to  in the car when she was a toddler. I started it playing in the storytime area about 15 minutes before storytime started, while I was getting everything else together. We started with our welcome song, followed by introductions and discussions of our favorite dinosaur.

Dinosaur storytimeSome of the kids were very wiggly and rambunctious, so I added a couple of extra verses (roaring and stomping) to our story song before reading our first book, Dinosaur vs. The Library by Bob Shea. I started with this one because it would involved lots of roaring, which I hoped would tire my audience out. 

Dinosaur loves roaring, and challenges all the other animals he meets. But when he goes to the library he learns roaring is discouraged and he must use his "inside roar". Dinosaur goes to storytime, but can he stay quiet through an entire story? Short, simple, fun, and interactive.

The kids were still wound-up, so I decided to do a very active song, where they could pretend to be dinosaurs.

The Dinosaur Goes....
(to the tune of "The Wheels On The Bus"0

Tyrannosaurus rex goes roar, roar, roar;
Roar, roar, roar; Roar, roar, roar.
Tyrannosaurus rex goes roar, roar, roar, 
All day long.

Velociraptor goes run, run, run...
Triceratops goes munch, munch, munch...
Pterodactyl goes flap, flap, flap....
Mosasaur goes splash, splash, splash....
Brontosaurus goes stomp, stomp, stomp.....

Dinosaur storytime
For our second book I choose Dinosaurs Galore, the pop-up version of Dinosaur Roar by Paul and Henrietta Stickland. This is another short simple book illustrating contrasting terms. 

I try to include a pop-up book in storytime as often as I can because the kids really love them, and they don't get to see them very often. I love the cute illustrations and simple text that you can expand upon if desired, and the pop-ups help keep them engaged.

We followed that with one of my favorite flannels that the kids always seem to enjoy:

Dinosaur storytime, Five Little Dinosaurs, dinosaur flannel

Five Little Dinosaurs

One little dinosaurs went out to play,
Out on a giant fern one day.
He had such enormous fun, 
He called for another dinosaur to come:

"Oh, Diiiiiinosaur!"
(pat hands on knees to imitate running)

Five little dinosaurs went out to play,
Out on a giant fern one day.
They had such enormous fun,
They played all day til the day was done!

And then the mommy dinosaurs called, 
"Oh, Little Dinosaurs!"

I had planned on a third book, and had 3 great options: Three Little Dinosaurs, Thesaurus Rex, and Dinosaur Stomp (another pop-up), but somehow we ran out of time. So we did our closing song and I put the Wee Sing Dinosaurs CD back on for them to listen to while they did the optional craft or just hung out and played.


The craft was a very simple one, given the young age of the audience. I cut out capital letter "D"s in several colors, which would be glued to a piece of paper and used as the body of a dinosaur. Crayons, markers, scissors, scrap paper, and googly eyes were provided so they could design whatever kind and color dinosaur they wished. Below are my two examples and a few crafts the kids made.

Dinosaur craft

How It Went

The kids seemed to enjoy the songs and books that we did, and loved talking about dinosaurs, but there was one child in particular that kept constantly interrupting and trying to talk over me and everyone else. It was a little frustrating, and no matter how I asked him to stop, he couldn't help himself.

I still trying to find my groove with this storytime, which really surprises me since I had done literally several hundred storytimes before I moved over here. But, my prior experience was in outreach storytimes, which are in a much more structured and controlled environment in the classroom. I'm used to having everyone sit roughly in a semi-circle in front of me, so it's easy for everyone to see and hear, and I can easily hear them and read their body language.

But at this library, I cannot get the families to move in close enough. Instead, they sprawl out as far away as possible it seems, so I don't get the same feedback or feel as connected with them. I've asked them to move closer and sit on the floor in front of me, but they just won't. They don't want to sit in the floor, and insist on sitting on top of the built-in storage bins around the perimeter of the storytime area, or at the tables and chairs that are actually just outside the storytime area. It really prevents storytime from being all it could be, but I'm not sure what to do to get them to move in closer.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Welcome to DiNovember! - Programming


So I'm finally getting a chance to do something I've always wanted to do: DiNovember! In case you're asking "what is "DiNovember?", it's a month-long celebration of dinosaurs and the children (and adults) who are obsessed with them, with multiple programs on a dinosaur theme, both active and passive. It was inspired by Refe and Susan Tume, authors of the What the Dinosaurs Did picture book series and instigators of this "month-long imagination invasion".

They started with posing their kids' plastic dinosaurs in various types of mischief and photographing them for their kids, then shared the pictures online. A few years ago a library (I believe it was a public library in Columbus, WI) picked up on it, and did the same thing with their toy dinosaurs in the library, sharing photos on the library Facebook page, and with a Facebook group for library people, which is how I learned about it. Being a total dinosaur nut, I LOVED the idea, but was not really in a position to implement it at the time.

But, now I am in a programming position in a branch library with a supervisor and coworkers who were willing to indulge me (though I'm not sure they knew just what level of dinosaur fanaticism they were unleashing 😉). So I have planned a dinosaur family storytime, a dinosaur/paleontology themed school-aged STEAM program, dinosaur and fossil scavenger hunts, a dinosaur book display, and my own version of "what the dinosaurs did last night", starting with this poster (click on any image to see full size):

Dinovember, dinosaurs

Some do a new picture every day, but I think that's a bit much, so I'll probably do one every 2-3 days, posting different "wanted" posters in the library, and hopefully to the library Facebook page (since we just have one for the whole system I'm still waiting for approval on that); I will also post them to the Adventures In Storytime Facebook page as well, so you can all follow along. I can't wait to see what great ideas my coworkers come up with for the dinos to get into! I think I will also hide a couple of the dinosaurs in the library each week for kids to find and help us gradually apprehend them all by the end of the month.

Our scavenger hunts are a continuous passive program that we change out every week or two with different themes. We usually select 6-8 pictures with whatever theme we decide on and place them around the department, then make a checklist sheet for the kids. When the kids find them all, they come back to the desk for a prize (usually stickers). For this month, I'm doing one with meat-eating dinosaurs, one with plant-eaters, and one with fossils found in our state. (I left one week open in case one of my coworkers wanted to do a Thanksgiving theme.)

I do not have one of the big inflatable T-rex costumes, but I did buy this really cute dinosaur dress! Yes, I am Ms. Frizzle at heart.

There will be other non-dino programs going on as well, though I think at least one coworker is also doing a dino-themed storytime. I haven't decided for sure exactly what I'm doing for my dino storytime or for my STEAM program, other than there will be at least one pop-up book in storytime, and one of the STEAM activities will be making plaster casts of dinosaur footprints. I'll write up each of those programs separately with all the details afterward, so check back!

Oh, I almost forgot! I also bought these large dino skeletons (about the side of a German Shephard dog). They have noise-activated sensors that make them roar and open and close their mouths, which I promptly turned off. 

Happy DiNovember!!

Dinovember, dinosaurs