A Performative Assessment

For the Summer Institute on Making Sense of Change 2005

Randal Holly

Assessing What We Know about Tyrannosaurs

One of the things I have long since learned about working with adolescents is that there are some things that simply sell themselves. Whenever occasions avail themselves to educators, strike while the iron is hot. This is the driving point behind using science fiction films when attempting to teach concepts. Besides being an obvious respite from the usual grind of the classroom, the usage of films provide an excellent opportunity to help students enhance their observations skills. Further, by helping students become more critical observers, the film industry is "coerced" to improving content and quality of its feature films. For example, the film "Anacondas" featured its main animal character devouring countless prey over the course of only a few days. This served as an affront to my science students, for our discussion of reptilian behavior did not advance this animal having such a voracious appetite. It is important to note that in the film's sequel, it featured several anacondas pursuing prey as opposed to just one. Perhaps, this indicated the writers were getting this animal's behavior "a little less wrong."

Standard 3.3.7.D.5 - Describe the role that fossils play in studying the past.

Value has to be continually given to knowledge already acquired by our students. If this is done effectively, students can easily compare what is learned from what was once thought to be correct. A simple way to use this as an anchor is to have students prepare a listing of information already understood on a topic such as tyrannosaurs. This should be written on the left side of a page. The amount of details on each page will vary for each student. This works well, for the amount of newly acquired information is what we'll be gauging anyway. We will feature three video clips that detail the behavior of tyrannosaurs in some manner. The first two clips are from the film "Jurassic Park." The title itself is a misnomer, for most of the dinosaurs depicted lived during the cretaceous period. (but that is another lesson) The third is from its sequel, "The Lost World." Students are asked to make observations and record as many details about tyrannosaurs on the right side of the page. Obviously, students need not duplicate any statements on the right side that already appeared on the left side of the page. Ordinarily, I would allow students the opportunity to view the clips twice.

In my presentation, there were three points we wanted to raise:

? Tyrannosaurs had an acute sense of smell.
? Tyrannosaurs may not have chased down prey at frightening speeds.
? The female tyrannosaur was a larger animal.

The first clip showed a tyrannosaur dangerously close to humans it was attempting to devour, yet found itself unable to see them. The humans were remaining motionless in hopes of resisting detection. For years, paleontologists have debated over the sight capability of this animal. There exists no clear consensus. However, we have since concluded that the animal must have possessed an acute sense of smell. It then follows that the animal may not have seen its prey, but it sure would have smelled it. In the second clip, the animal is seen chasing down a jeep. Only after shifting to fourth gear are our cast members able to escape. The problem here is that the animal's arms were almost useless as a brace for support. If it ever fell while pursuing prey at top speeds, the sheer momentum would have been enough to injure its torso and/or facial structures. However, the fossil records do not support this. We do not routinely find indications that these animals had skeletal damage/repair due to impacts with the ground after a fall. It has only been asserted during the past ten years that the animal may have rambled after prey at a much slower speed than previously thought. Many paleontologists suggest the animal did not hunt prey at all and may have been nothing more than a huge scavenger. In the third clip, we have a big game hunter wishing to have the opportunity to hunt the largest land carnivore ever known. Specifically, he states his desire to hunt the male tyrannosaur. Categorically, there are two things wrong with his remarks. First, we now have fossil evidence of larger land carnivores than tyrannosaurs. Second, the female tyrannosaur was larger than the male. We see this in many amphibian species and even some reptiles.

At the end of the discussion, Students should strikethrough any statements on the left side of the page now discovered to be incorrect. Students should also strikethrough any information on the right side of the page discovered to be incorrect. Students should then tally the number of remaining entries on the right side of the page and add the number of stricken statements from the left side of the page. This is done to reflect the "unlearning" of information. The total number is to be written at the bottom of the page. After collecting the sheets, determine the range and divide this range into quintiles. Literal grades can then be assigned to each quintile. It is important to note that a student may have an overall low score, but recorded a high amount of statements on the left side of his page. This represents a student that may have not acquired much learning during the lesson, but already had a satisfactory understanding of the material to be taught. His grade should be adjusted accordingly.

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