Sixth Grade Students Unearth Dinosaur History

Last Wednesday, dinosaur bones walked right into Middle School Science Teacher Michelle Hrastich’s classroom. The fossils arrived with help from Adventure 360, an organization that leads paleontological expeditions to the town of Jordan, Montana.

Sixth-grade students in Ms. Hrastich’s class have been learning about geologic history and what fossils can tell us about the rock layers and time periods in which they are found. “My classes get hands-on experiences daily,” said Hrastich. “I was a geology major and have done research all over the country. I’ve collected many rocks and fossils along the way, so I bring them in for the students to see. These include dinosaur fossils, crinoids (our state fossil), gemstones, and rocks made by asteroid impacts and volcanoes here in Missouri.”

Hrastich found a juvenile triceratops during a 2013 trip to Montana with Adventure 360. She tries to bring that level of discovery and personal experience into her classroom. “The majority of the population never gets the chance to touch a real dinosaur fossil. Typically the ‘fossils’ you see in museums are replicas, so students are excited to have the opportunity to touch the real deal.”

“The fossils that students got to interact with were found in Montana right below the extinction layer, the layer of ash that was deposited after an asteroid struck Earth 65 million years ago,” Hrastich explained. Students had the opportunity to see triceratops teeth, horns, and a large piece of frill (the shield on the back of a triceratops head), various raptor teeth and bones, a T-Rex tooth, and a leg bone of a currently unidentified dinosaur. Students also saw fossils from other creatures that lived at that time, such as gar scales, champsosaur vertebrae (a champsosaur is an ancient, alligator-like creature), and tiny mammal bones.

Michelle Hrastich with the triceratops she found during her dig with Adventure 360 in Montana.
Adventure 360’s paleontological digs are not only for professionals. The organization’s Paleo X program takes families and adults for single- or multiple-day digs in Montana.