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Arctic Dinosaurs

Viewing Ideas

Before Watching

  1. Investigate how animals adapt to polar climates. Have the class identify different animals that live in polar regions (examples include polar bears, caribou, wolves, lemmings, arctic hares, whales, penguins, artic terns, snow geese, seals, and walruses). Ask students to consider how these animals are adapted to the extreme low temperatures and lack of sunlight that characterize polar regions. Then organize students into teams; have each team select an animal and research how it survives the polar climate, focusing on anatomical, physiological, and behavioral features and adaptations. Make a chart on the board with a column for the animal's name and the three types of adaptations. Fill it in as students share their results with the rest of the class. What are some of the different ways animals survive? (Answers may include such things as migration, hibernation, extra fat layers, thick coats, larger or smaller size than similar animals found in other less extreme climates, and chemicals in the blood that prevent freezing.)

  2. Determine the location and climate of Alaska and Australia during the Cretaceous period. Remind students that the Cretaceous period is the time in Earth's history that occurred 144-65 million years ago. Obtain maps showing scientists' best estimate of the location of the continents during the Cretaceous period, either in reference books or online at the Paleomap Project Web site. Have students locate Alaska and Australia on the Cretaceous period map (near the Arctic and Antarctic, respectively). Ask students to describe what they think the climate of those areas might have been like. Then show them the Paleoclimate Animation on the Paleomap Project Web site. Start with the modern world (000) and have students describe where the arid (yellow) and tropical (dark green) areas are in relation to the cool temperate (brown) and north and south polar (white) areas. Where do these areas occur in the modern-day world? Then go back 60 million years to the late Cretaceous period and repeat the exercise. Finally, go even further back in time to the early Cretaceous period, 140 million years ago. What are the biggest differences between today's climate and that of the Cretaceous period? In what regions did the biggest changes occur? (There are increased percentages of warm temperate areas, particularly in the polar regions, during the Cretaceous period.)

  3. Explore the definitions of endotherm, ectotherm, and permafrost. Ask the class to define the terms endotherm and ectotherm. (An endotherm is an animal that can maintain a relatively constant internal body temperature regardless of the surrounding temperature. An ectotherm is an animal that has an internal body temperature that is the same as that of its surroundings.) Ask students to think of some examples of each; make a list of their responses on the board. (Common examples of endotherms include birds and mammals. Common examples of ectotherms include fish, amphibians, and reptiles.) If students don't suggest dinosaurs on their own, ask them into which category dinosaurs might fit. Have students explain why they think dinosaurs fit into the category they suggest. Then ask students what they think permafrost is and where it occurs. (Permafrost is permanently frozen subsoil. It occurs throughout both polar regions and in other locations where temperatures have dropped below the freezing point for several years. About 25 percent of Earth's total land area contains permafrost.)

  4. Learn more about how dinosaurs might have survived in polar climates and about what it is like for humans to work in remote areas. The program presents evidence for how dinosaurs might have survived in polar climates. It also shows the challenges scientists encounter when gathering evidence in very remote regions. Group the class into five teams. Assign one team each to take notes on the following four types of evidence as they watch the program: species of dinosaurs found, tree rings and leaves, trace fossils, and dinosaur bones. Assign a fifth team to track the challenges faced by members of the Alaskan scientific expeditions and the techniques they used to gather evidence.

After Watching

  1. Discuss various ideas about how dinosaurs might have survived in polar climates and about what it is like to work in remote regions. After students have watched the program, have each of the four teams that looked for evidence meet, come to a consensus about the information they discovered, and present their findings to the class. Have the team that focused on the expedition meet to write down the challenges faced and techniques used to collect evidence. Draw a four-column chart on the board and label each column with types of evidence students were tracking in the program. Fill in each column with the information students obtained. What conclusions did scientists draw? How has this evidence changed the way scientists think about dinosaurs? Have the team that tracked the scientific expedition create and share with the class a blog entry using the perspectives of one of the scientists at the sites. The entry should include what a day on site might be like.

  2. Research dinosaurs that lived in polar regions. The program mentions several types of dinosaurs that lived in polar regions during the Cretaceous period. Group the class into small teams. Using the following list of dinosaurs, assign one dinosaur per two or three teams: Pachyrhinosaurus, therapods, Troodon, Dromaseosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, and Edmontosaurus (hadrosaur). Ask teams to research the particular dinosaur they are assigned. (Each dinosaur should be studied by at least two teams.) Students' research should include a description of the dinosaur, the regions in which it lived, what it ate, and possible adaptations that allowed it to live in polar regions. Students should also describe ways in which the polar dinosaur compared with dinosaurs of the same species living in non-polar regions. After students have finished their research, have teams collaborate in developing a Wikipedia page for their dinosaur. Assign the members of one team to write the original entry for their dinosaur; members of other teams that researched the same dinosaur should take turns adding to, deleting, or editing information in the original post based on what they learned. Then have the first team read the final product.

    Because many students rely on Wikipedia for information but do not understand how Wikipedia information is generated, after teams have finished discuss with the class how Wikipedia entries are produced. How much information did each team add? What was deleted and why? What was changed and why? Did the first team think the final entry was accurate? Why or why not? What happens to a Wikipedia entry if two authors disagree on the information contained in it? Who oversees Wikipedia entries? (Wikipedia has written policies stating its guidelines regarding the type and quality of material that is acceptable in Wikipedia articles. The number of entries on Wikipedia make it prohibitive for the Wikimedia Foundation [which operates several wiki projects] to personally oversee them—Wikimedia mostly relies on the Wikipedia editors, those who change the entries, to resolve content conflicts through Wikipedia's principles of collaboration and concensus-building. Mediation and arbitration committees are available to resolve debates when the wiki process of collaboration has broken down.)

Links and Books


The Age of Reptiles: Polar Region
Presents information on Cretaceous period Australian dinosaurs, including descriptions of the climate, dinosaurs, other animals living at the time, and plant life.

Alaska Dinosaurs!?
Includes a brief description of current research on Alaskan dinosaurs, a downloadable eight-page pamphlet that contains information on different dinosaurs and fossils found in Alaska, links to additional articles, a coloring page, and educational activities.

The Strange Lives of Polar Dinosaurs
Features the findings of Tom Rich and Tony Fiorillo and examines how dinosaurs might have endured months of cold temperatures and darkness.

University of California Museum of Paleontology
Features the Paleontology Portal, which focuses on the fossil record of North America, including state-by-state U.S. paleontology, fossil photo galleries, interviews with paleontologists, maps, and classroom resources.


Dinosaurs of Darkness
by Thomas H. Rich and Patricia Vickers-Rich.
Indiana University Press, 2000.
Describes the discovery of the polar dinosaurs and the world in which they lived.

Dinosaurs: The Science Behind the Stories
by Judith Scotchmoor, et al.
American Geological Institute, 2002.
Features leading paleontologists, including Tony Fiorillo, who use dinosaurs to illustrate the nature and methods of science and relate how we know what we know. Explores multiple lines of evidence that have led to new hypotheses, discoveries, and understandings of the history of life on Earth.

Dinosaurus: The Complete Guide to Dinosaurs
by Steve Parker.
Firefly Books, 2003.
Describes 500 dinosaurs, including illustrations and information about each dinosaur's discovery and characteristics. Each entry also includes a "Dino Factfile" containing data on the dinosaur's scientific name, location, size, diet, and time period.

Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Other Fossils from Montana to Mongolia
by Michael Novacek.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003.
Provides descriptions of paleontologist Michael Novacek's numerous expeditions and life in the field. Includes accounts of what life is like for a paleontologist.

Viewing Ideas Author

Margy Kuntz has written and edited educational materials for more than 24 years. She has authored numerous educational supplements, basal text materials, and trade books on science, math, and computers.

Teacher's Guide
Arctic Dinosaurs

Koch Foundation