Life on the Farm. Click here to find out how a new mower turned a chore into a pleasure.

Rural Missouri Magazine
Dinosaurs in
the classroom

Dino Discovery brings the field trip to the school

by Bob McEowen

Children react to a life-size Tyrannosaurus rex head during a presentation of Dino Discovery at Cole Camp R-1 Elementary School. The program brings a dinosaur-based natural history field trip to rural schools.

The chatter of little voices stops as soon as the kindergarten class enters the gymnasium. Eyes are open wide, mouths agape in amazement. They can hardly take it all in.

As class after class enters and sits in groups on the gym floor, their reaction is the same. The children are mesmerized by the display of life-size dinosaur replicas spread out before them.

One object, an enormous mastodon skull with its gigantic tusks reaching out toward the students, locks their attention at the center of the display.

Dan Stone begins his presentation with a story. Sherm Byers, Dan’s brother-in-law, was digging a hole for a pond on his golf course “when he found this . . .” Dan pauses as he walks toward the ponderous skull. As he turns around he cradles in his arms a 3-foot-long bone.

With the children at rapt attention Dan tells the story of the Burning Tree Mastodon, found near Newark, Ohio, in 1989. The third-largest, and most complete, mastodon ever found, the specimen contained evidence of injuries inflicted by humans and traces of bacteria, the oldest living organism ever discovered. The giant skull is an exact cast of the 11,600-year-old creature his wife’s brother unearthed.

While mastodons are not technically dinosaurs, the skull offers a perfect introduction to Dino Discovery, a natural science exhibit and educational program Dan and his wife, Janice, bring to elementary schools throughout Missouri and Illinois and into parts of Iowa and Kansas.

The Stones, members of Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative, make their home in Taylor but spend their lives on the road, traveling to schools and presenting Dino Discovery twice a week.

“It’s like a field trip except that the teachers don’t have to put the children on a bus and take them someplace,” Dan says. “Here, in the safety of the school, the teachers with their students can look closely at everything.”

During a presentation at Cole Camp Elementary School, Dan Stone blows into a 10-foot-long tube to mimic the sound scientists think the Parasaurolophus dinosaur might have made. More than just an assembly program, Stone’s Dino Discovery allows children to spend time examining the extensive natural history display he brings to schools.

Each Dino Discovery presentation begins with an assembly and includes time for every class to tour the exhibit with their teacher. Often the display remains in place for an evening program that allows children to show their parents what they learned.

A recent appearance at Cole Camp R-1 Elementary School is typical of Dan’s presentation. Dan spoke to younger students during a morning assembly and older students in the afternoon. Each class, in turn, is given time to walk through and examine the exhibit. Before the day was done all 300 children at the school heard Dan speak and looked at the specimens — all reproductions — up close.

“Even the little kids were listening,” says Cheryl Peterson, principal at the school. “They were ready for him to keep on going. That’s unusual for kids that age to stay with stuff.”

While Dan begins with his own family’s adventure digging up a skeleton, he quickly involves the students. To make the point that a paleontologist is someone who studies bones, Dan invites a student to the front to examine a real piece of dinosaur bone. After the child shares her observations with the assembled students Dan declares the child has done the work of a paleontologist.

Dan Stone squats to answer children’s questions during the individual class portion of a Dino Discovery program.

Two other students are outfitted with a hat and a whip while Dan describes a famous scientist, deathly afraid of snakes, who was prone to don these items. Dan cleverly uses the children’s familiarity with the fictional Indiana Jones to introduce the real-life paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews, widely assumed to be the inspiration for the film character.

“I try to find a point of reference and then stretch it,” Dan says. “The point of reference might be something in a movie. They don’t know the difference between fiction and fact but in their mind there is that hook. I stretch that by developing it and bringing the scientific reality to it.”

The Dino Discovery program is a substantial stretch from Dan’s own point of reference. He grew up near Pittsburgh, Penn., and recalls childhood trips to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Janice knew little of dinosaurs until the arrival of TV crews and teams of scientists interrupted her brother’s pond excavation.

“It changed his life,” Dan says of his brother-in-law’s find. “Since then it’s changed our life because we picked this up as a venture.”

The couple was living in Florida at the time of the discovery. Dan was selling yachts while their daughter trained for an unsuccessful attempt at joining the U.S. Olympic swim team. Soon after, they moved to Missouri to take a job with a school yearbook photo company.

Occasionally, Dan and Janice — both former school teachers — helped her brother tell the Burning Tree Mastodon story to school groups. In time, they began incorporating dinosaurs into their school photo business. They filled their minivan with a few dinosaur replicas and offered students the option of having their picture taken with the model.

“There came a time when we had to make a decision, either do this full time or give it up,” Dan says.

The couple chose the dinosaurs and launched a for-profit educational business full time in 1997. Janice, a former science teacher, and Dan, who taught business classes as a young man, developed the program and bought exhibit items. Just the mastodon skull cost $10,000. A life-size tyrannosaurus head was similarly priced.

Table after table is packed with educational materials as the Stone’s display stretches halfway around the basketball court. There are fossils and replicas of dinosaurs, artists’ depictions of life during dinosaur times and displays explaining current scientific theories.

Janice Stone answers children’s questions about fossil specimens.

“What we offer is something three-dimensional as opposed to a flat screen — books, videos, TV. The exhibit has the third dimension — size, color, shape,” Dan says as he points to a replica fossil showing what is believed to be the earliest bird ever found. “You can look at a picture of Archaeopteryx in a book but to actually see Archaeopteryx and to see the wishbone and the outline of feathers is altogether different.”

In basing their program on dinosaurs, Dan and Janice are tapping into a captive audience.

“Kids have a huge interest in dinosaurs,” Janice says. “It’s a great way to get kids interested in science in general.”

The program not only builds on the children’s natural interest in what the Stones describe as “monsters and mysteries” but, during an optional evening program, children can lead their parents and siblings through the exhibit and become the teacher.

“The concept of the evening is to give the children a venue to reconstruct what they’ve learned and be the education expedition leaders for their families,” Dan says. “They have to think about what it is they’re going to say, think about what they have been told and reconstruct it in a way that makes sense. Not only did they receive it but now they have cognitively thought about it. They have learned it in its entirety.”

Janice sees it on a simpler level.

“It’s a subject that the children probably know more about than their parents do,” she says. “The parents think the kids are amazing because they’ve learned all these things. So it’s kind of a hook there. They can study and amaze their parents with all these facts.”

School administrators and teachers like the evening program because it involves parents in school activities.

A block of amber with a prehistoric insect trapped inside conjures imagery of the movie “Jurassic Park” for children who attend Dino Discovery. The film’s improbable plot involved cloning dinosaurs from such a specimen. Stone uses popular dinosaur lore as a way to convey factual information.

“Maybe the parents and children will have time together to discuss things that are happening at school,” Peterson says. “They can talk to the teachers about something that’s not behavior-related or how their children’s academics are.”

But more than anything else, Dino Discovery brings educational materials to the school that are simply not available anywhere else in the area. For schools like Cole Camp, a two-hour drive to a Kansas City museum is just not practical. The Stone’s program allows an entire school to experience a museum-quality exhibit in a single day, without the safety and liability concerns of bus travel.

The Dino Discovery program costs between $750 to $1,245 depending on the time of year it’s scheduled and whether an evening program is requested. The price increases $500 if an optional rock and fossil shop is not selected. Proceeds from the shop underwrite the Stone’s travel and set-up expenses.

While the program might seem expensive for some rural schools, Peterson says Dino Discovery is worth it for the effect it has on students.

“To see these things, to imagine Tyrannosaurus rex being as tall as the basketball goal, being that tall, it’s like ‘wow!’”

For more information, write Dino Discovery at Stone Enterprises, 1024 County Road 365, Taylor, MO 63471; log onto www.dinodiscovery.com or call 1-800-723-9571.

Rural Missouri magazine - April 2014 issue
 
 
Rural Missouri Merchandise Out of the Way Eats Subscribe to Rural Missouri Rural Missouri Prints Store

Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

Rural Missouri
2722 E. McCarty Street
P.O. Box 1645 • Jefferson City, Mo. 65102
573-659-3423

Real People. Stihl People.

Rural Missouri's Facebook Page Rural Missouri's YouTube Channel Subscribe to Rural Missouri's RSS Feed Rural Missouri | Pinterest