Although an image of Tyrannosaurus rex adorns the cover of this fantastic new video produced by the prolific Science Education Department at Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the surprise is that tiny fossilized protists are the real stars of the show. Intended for “all students in all science classes,” this beautiful and well-produced video offers a glimpse into how scientists constructed an understanding of how and why a mass extinction occurred on Earth 66 million years ago.
Instead of focusing on dinosaurs, the story asks why there are size and diversity differences between tiny fossilized microorganisms called foraminifera (or “forams” for short), between sedimentary rocks found near the boundary of Cretaceous and Tertiary (K-T) periods. The video, available free on DVD or online, is divided into three acts, moving seamlessly between locations, people, and “deep time,” reconstructing scientists’ interdisciplinary approach to solving this mystery. The result was a revolutionary theory explaining how a large asteroid impact caused the mass extinction of most of the dinosaurs. The well-paced DVD includes closed-captioning in both English and Spanish, and is engaging for students from middle through high school.
Accompanying the video are teacher resources: a film guide for teachers, a student quiz, and six activities. The six lessons, three of which carry a heavy dose of physical science, are appropriate for more than just life-science classes. Each lesson is also available in both student and teacher formats, which outline the objectives, appropriate levels, and prior knowledge required. And as with many HHMI materials, all can be found online linked to common texts and curriculum.
While the video is suitable for a wide variety of students and science classes, many of the readers and lesson prompts are written at a college level. Students with below-grade-level reading skills and English language learners may find the text difficult to comprehend. Moreover, some of the lessons require math skills and confidence commonly found only in AP or advanced courses, but with a bit of effort from the teacher, each activity can be reworked to meet individual classroom needs, from middle school through AP.
The Day the Mesozoic Died is another vital resource created by HHMI. The DVD and accompanying materials underscore the importance of all science disciplines in understanding the natural world.
ROBERTA BATORSKY, an experienced high school and college biology teacher, is adjunct faculty at Middlesex County College, Edison, NJ. Roberta has a B.S. and an M.S. in biology. Her address is 25 Hinkle Dr., Bordentown, NJ 08505; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Roberta welcomes submissions of classroom media for review in ABT.