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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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