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The Birth of Rocks Unit Share
Anchor Phenomenon
Fossil Finds
Scroll for prep

Fifty years ago a paleontologist, Mike, was walking through a farm in Nebraska. In a spot where soil had been washed away by the rain, he noticed a bone he had never seen before. It was something he'd hoped to find for a long time.

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Mike couldn’t believe his eyes….it was a small skull. He excitedly started brushing away the material that covered it, to see if there might be an entire skeleton.

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Mike brought a team of scientists to dig through the hill. Slowly, they uncovered the rest of the skeleton that Mike had first found...it was a prehistoric baby rhinoceros!

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Discuss:

Today, rhinoceros live in Africa, not North America. How do you think a rhino skull ended up on a farm in Nebraska?

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Over the next eight years, the scientists kept digging on the same hill and uncovered more layers of prehistoric animals, including horses, camels, birds, and turtles.

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Today, scientists are still digging and finding fossils!

Go to the next slide to check out a video of the fossil beds.

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Get a See-Think-Wonder chart to record your ideas.

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THINK-PAIR-SHARE:

What do you observe about the fossils found at the site? What do you notice about the positions they are in? What do you notice about the types of animals that are there?

Record your answers in the SEE column of your chart.

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THINK-PAIR-SHARE:

What do you think killed all of these animals? Why do you think it took so long for people to find the fossils?

Record your answers in the THINK column of your chart.

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THINK-PAIR-SHARE:

What do you wonder about this fossil site?

Record your answers in the WONDER column of your chart.

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Scientists use fossils to try to uncover the story of life on Earth millions of years ago. In today’s activity, you’ll start to uncover the story of why so many animals died and became fossils at the place that Mike Voorhies discovered in Nebraska (today it’s called the Ashfall Fossil Beds).

What killed all of these animals? When were they killed? Why did it take so long to discover them? How were their skeletons so perfectly preserved?

In today's activity, you'll make predictions about what happened at the Ashfall Fossil beds. Throughout the Mysteries, you’ll collect new pieces of information to help you fully explain what happened to the animals.

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You've completed the Unit Starter!

Be sure each student has an "Ashfall Fossil Beds Evidence Chart" worksheet before you begin Mystery 1. They will use it in the Unit Connection after each Mystery.

Teach Mystery 1 next: Could a volcano pop up in your backyard?

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Image & Video Credits

Mystery Science respects the intellectual property rights of the owners of visual assets. We make every effort to use images and videos under appropriate licenses from the owner or by reaching out to the owner to get explicit permission. If you are the owner of a visual and believe we are using it without permission, please contact us—we will reply promptly and make things right.

Other
Ashfall Fossil Beds - Teleoceras female and calf by Image used under license from Alamy.com: Archive PL
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historic Site, Nebraska by Image used with permission from: Lisa Kern
Ashfall Fossil Beds Teleoceras female and calf by Image used with permission and under public domain through Ammodramus
Ashfall beds rhino jaw by Image used with permission from: UNL
Ashfall fossil beds, NE by Image used with permission from: Bubblybabs L
Ashfalls by Image used with permission from: Discover North East Nebraska
Collection of Assorted Paintbrushes Isolated on a White Background by Image used under license from Shutterstock.com: Bryan Solomon
Mud texture by Image used under license from Shutterstock.com: Lightsprings
Rhino skull in sun by Image used under license from Shutterstock.com: Nora Marie
palentologist at work by Image used with permission from: news.unl.edu
Overview
Grade 4th
Topic Rock Cycle & Earth's Processes
Focus Fossils and Constructing Explanations
Print Prep
Activity Prep

The anchoring phenomenon for this unit is the Ashfall Fossil Beds. Students generate observations and questions about the phenomenon and create an initial explanation to explain what killed the prehistoric animals, how their bones ended up underground, and what changes happened to the land that uncovered their fossils.

Preview activity

Before starting this lesson, review the unit Teacher Guide for an overview of The Birth of Rocks Anchor Layer.

In the Unit Starter, students are introduced to the unit anchoring phenomenon, the Ashfall Fossil Beds site. In the activity, they create an initial explanation to explain what killed the prehistoric animals, how their bones ended up underground, and what changes happened to the land that uncovered their fossils. Students will gather new evidence after each Mystery in order to revise their explanation.

It is important to encourage students to recognize that even if they don't know the perfect answer yet, they are going to learn a lot throughout the unit and have an opportunity to change or add to their first explanation.

Step 1: Set up your classroom by creating a class "See-Think-Wonder" chart (the student version is linked below). We recommend using chart paper, or a space on your board that won't be erased since you will revisit it throughout the unit.

Step 2: Print out worksheets. Each student needs a:

Overview
Grade 4th
Topic Rock Cycle & Earth's Processes
Focus Fossils and Constructing Explanations
Extensions