Four-Winged Dinosaur, The
a map to locate where scientists found the Microraptor fossils. Using a
world map, have students first locate China and then the Liaoning Province (the
southern portion of Northeastern China). Explain to students that Liaoning
Province is the source of many unusual fossils, including feathered dinosaurs.
Ask students what might make the area a good source of fossils. What conditions
do students think would be best to preserve fossils? (Most fossils are found in
sedimentary rock, which forms when sediment, such as rock particles or organic
matter, become compressed and cemented together as it piles up. Fossils can
also be found in amber, tar pits, frozen ground, or preserved during a
catastrophic event happened, such as a volcanic eruption that produced a lot of
fine ash. The Liaoning fossils are so well preserved because the victims were
killed by volcanic eruptions of suffocating gas and then buried quickly by
volcanic ash. This allowed the preservation of very fine details of soft
tissues, like feathers. It also favored the preservation of small animals,
which usually do not fossilize because they decompose quickly when exposed to
Explore the time period when
the Liaoning fossils were formed. Have students use the University of
California Museum of Paleontology online time line to locate the geologic time
period in which the Liaoning fossils were formed (130 million years
[plus or minus 5 million years] ago during the early
Cretaceous Period). Assign groups to research what happened in the
periods before and after in terms of development of insects, mammals, birds,
amphibians, and plants. Ask each group to place a self-stick note on a time
line at the front of the class that indicates the period researched and photos
of the organisms that were evolving at that time. Find the time line at
Research the structure and function of feathers. If you have samples of feathers, bring them in. Have
students discuss the functions of feathers (flight, insulation,
defense, display, camouflage, waterproofing).
Group the class into small teams and assign each team one of the following
birds: penguin, ostrich, peacock, duck, snowy owl, and robin. Ask students to
research the physical characteristics and function of feathers in the bird they
are assigned. Their research should include an examination of the bird's
habitat and the role feathers play as an adaptation to that habitat. After
students have finished their research they should present their findings to the
class, incorporating pictures or illustrations of their bird, its feathers, and
its habitat if possible.
Evaluate the evidence for the evolution of flight. While the majority of scientists agree that birds evolved
from dinosaurs, how flight evolved is still being debated. As they watch the
film, have students take notes on the two main theories about how flight
evolved. Have half the class take notes on evidence supporting and refuting the
theory that flight evolved from dinosaurs who took flight from the ground up
and the other half take notes on evidence for and against the theory that
flight evolved from reptiles that glided among the treetops.
evidence for the evolution of flight. Have
students summarize what each theory proposed and outline the evidence
supporting and refuting each theory. What types of fossil evidence was used to
support or clarify these theories? Ask students for a show of hands of which
theory they believe is most plausible. Choose some students from each camp to
defend why they chose that theory.
a dinosaur model based on its skeleton.
Point out that the scientists in the video created several models of Microraptor based solely on fossils. Explain that similar techniques are used to
model all dinosaurs, since we have no way of knowing what they actually look
like. Direct students to the American Museum of Natural History's
"Drawing Dinos" Web site at
provides detailed suggestions on how to draw a dinosaur based on its skeleton.
Print out at least one copy of the "Dino Skeletons for You to
Draw!" page for each student, and hand out the page along with
tracing paper and colored pencils. (Students can also draw a model based on
other skeletons. They just need to find a skeleton picture that gives a side
view of the animal.)
Have students use the information
on the site to create their dinosaur drawings. When
students are finished, discuss the process. How similar or different are the
final drawings? Was the task easy or difficult for students? Why or why not?
NOVA—The Four-Winged Dinosaur
Features articles, interviews,
interactive activities, and resources to accompany the program.
About Birds: Feather Structure
Provides a diagram of the parts of a feather and
explanations of the different kinds of feathers found in birds.
Museum of Natural History: Liaoning Diorama
descriptions and images of the fossil finds, feathered dinosaurs, and Liaoning
Forest 130 million years ago.
Natural History Museum: DinoBirds
Features descriptions of fossil finds as well as
information on evidence linking dinosaurs to birds.
The Dinosaur Museum: Making a Feathered Deinonychus Sculpture
in a slide show how scientists created a life-sized model of Deinonychus.
Dinosaurs with Feathers: The
Ancestors of Modern Birds
Arnold. Clarion Books,
the relationship between dinosaurs and modern birds starting with the discovery
of the first Archaeopteryx fossil in 1861.
Rise of the Dragon: Readings from Nature on the Chinese Fossil Record
Gee (editor). University
of Chicago Press, 2001.
together 16 articles from Nature
magazine on recent fossil finds in China.
Geographic Children's Books, 2001.
development of feathers and avian characteristics from dinosaurs to birds.
Includes text, drawings, photos, and diagrams.
Feathered Dinosaurs of China
number of feathered dinosaur fossils found in Liaoning Province. Includes a map
and a glossary.
by Pat Shipman. Simon and Schuster, 1998.
Provides a history of the
bird origin debate from the discovery of Archaeopteryx in the 1860s until just before the first feathered
dinosaurs were discovered in the mid-1990s.
Unearthing the Dragon
by Mark Norell and Nick
Ellison. Pi Press, 2005.
Recounts the personal
account of AMNH paleontology curator Mark Norell in his hunt for feathered
dinosaurs in China.
Viewing Ideas Author
Margy Kuntz has
written and edited educational materials for 20 years. She has authored numerous educational supplements, basal text
materials, and trade books on science, math, and computers.