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Lesson Plans Library 6 > Physical Science
Scientific Inquiry, Episode 3
Scientific Inquiry, Episode 3
Grade level: 6 Subject: Physical Science Duration: 2-3 class periods

lesson plan support
Students will
  • Research and examine current theories behind the mass extinction of dinosaurs.
  • Write an essay defending one extinction theory.
  1. Talk about the extinction of the dinosaurs. A good way to introduce this topic is to view the segment "End of Dinosaurs" in Scientific Inquiry, Episode 3. Following the video, discuss the two major extinction theories talked about in the program, the intrinsic volcanic eruption theory and the extrinsic meteorite theory.
  2. Divide students into groups of two or three and have them use the video, print materials, and the Internet to research the two theories. Each group should be able to answer the following about both theories:
    • What is the theory?
    • According to this theory, describe what happened to the dinosaurs
    • Who developed this theory and when? (If known)
    • What evidence supports this theory?
    • What are the major differences between the two theories?
    The following Web sites have good information about both theories:
  3. After conducting their group research, have the groups share what they found; allow time to discuss and reflect on both theories. Ask the class: What is the most compelling evidence for either theory? Which theory seems more accurate and why?
  4. Next have each student write a one-page essay about what they think caused the mass extinction. Essays should be well organized, legible, and based on the fact information that students researched. Give students time in class and as a homework assignment to write their essays.
  5. Once they have finished their essays, allow volunteers to share what they wrote with the class. Hold a discussion about the students' ideas about the dinosaur extinction. Which theory did most students agree with?

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points: Students were highly engaged in class and group discussions; used research materials independently and wisely; answered the research questions thoughtfully and intelligently; and wrote legible, well-organized essays based on their research, and clearly identified that they understood the subject matter very well.
  • Two points: Students participated in class and group discussions; used research materials with little teacher supervision; generally answered the research questions; and wrote somewhat legible, well-organized essays based some on their research, and identified that they had a basic understanding of the subject matter.
  • One point: Students participated minimally in class and group discussions; were unable to use research materials without supervision; were unable to answer the research questions without a good deal of help; and wrote illegible or disorganized essays that was not based on their research or showed a lack of understanding of the subject matter, or did not complete their essays at all.

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Definition: The depression formed by a meteorite or a bowl-shaped depression at the mouth of a volcano
Context: Scientists discovered a crater more than 110 miles wide off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

Definition: Any of a group (Dinosauria) of extinct chiefly terrestrial carnivorous or herbivorous reptiles of the Mesozoic era
Context: Some scientists believe that a volcanic eruption caused a lava flow that killed all the dinosaurs on Earth.

Definition: The condition or process of becoming extinct; the act of dying out
Context: Five major extinctions have occurred in Earth's history.

Definition: A stony or metallic mass of matter that has fallen to the Earths surface from space
Context: The Hoba iron meteorite in Namibia is the largest meteorite known on Earth.

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Academic Standards

National Academy of Sciences
The National Science Education Standards provide guidelines for teaching science as well as a coherent vision of what it means to be scientifically literate for students in grades K-12. To view the standards, visit
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • Science as Inquiry: Understanding about scientific inquiry
  • Life Science: Organisms and environments; Populations and ecosystems; Interdependence of organisms
  • Earth and Space Science: Earth's history; Changes in earth and sky

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • Geography-Physical Systems: Knows the physical processes that shape patterns on Earth's surface
  • Geography-Uses of Geography: Understands how geography is used to interpret the past
  • Science-Life Science: Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment
  • Science-Nature of Science: Understands the nature of scientific knowledge; Understands the nature of scientific inquiry

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