Classroom Adventures

Dirt Decoders

Investigate the history of life on Earth through fossils.

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Grade Level 3-5

Earth and Space Science

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Why have ground sloth fossils been found where they don’t belong?

A paleontologist in the American Southwest finds two ground sloth bones in a place they don’t belong. Your students are called to help determine where they came from, how they got there, and where the rest of the bones are located.

As they examine a series of scientific bread crumbs, they learn of an emergency in a nearby flooded cave. The teams must work together to ensure all scientists are safe so they can continue their exploration.

Supplement your science unit with our interactive Dirt Decoders simulation. Students are placed into teams to conduct research, collaborate to find solutions to urgent challenges, and experience real-world careers: biologist, cartographer, geologist, and paleontologist.

Then, integrate our engineering activity and nonfiction science writing exercise where it fits best to continue students’ understanding of the engineering design process and scientific communication.

While Dirt Decoders primarily focuses on Earth science themes, it also integrates life science and engineering topics.

“My class really enjoyed how hands-on the Dirt Decoders experience was. They got to see how Earth has changed over time, which linked directly to our field trip to the Natural History Museum.”

– Michelle Morales, Alexander McClure Elementary School (Pennsylvania)

Learning Objectives

  • Understand rock formations and fossils

  • Understand the ways in which weathering and erosion alter landscapes

  • Solve problems using the engineering design process

  • Communicate scientific ideas through non-fiction writing

  • Enhance scientific vocabulary

  • Approximate program time: 1 hour

  • Pre- and post-lesson activities available

  • Closed captioning available

  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) aligned

  • Common Core State Standards (CCSS) aligned

  • Internet connection required

  • Device with audio/video capability required

  • No personal student data collected

  • Online teacher training available

In Partnership

Classroom Adventures was developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation.