Lesson plan

Labs: Launch Stage - Explore

teaches Common Core State Standards SL.2.1.a http://corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/SL/2/1/a
teaches Common Core State Standards SL.2.1 http://corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/SL/2/1
teaches Common Core State Standards L.2.1.d http://corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/L/2/1/d
teaches Common Core State Standards L.2.4 http://corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/L/2/4

Labs: Launch Stage - Explore

Learning target: 

  • I can learn about paleontology by exploring the tools of a paleontologist.

  • I can show respect when using the tools of a paleontologist.


  • In the Explore Lab, the Launch stage introduces students to the purpose, expectations, and materials of the Explore Lab.

In advance:


  • Review the Labs song.
  • Post: Focus question (optional).

Setting Goals 

  • Post: Guiding question and learning target(s) for the Lab students will be launching that day (see detailed plans for each Lab on the pages that follow).

In the Lab

  • The Explore Lab requires a significant amount of preparation, as teachers are asked to create a simulated dig using a variety of materials. Once this preparation is complete, however, students will be afforded a significant level of independence in exploring the tools of paleontologist.

  • To create the simulated dig:

    • Collect a variety of objects to serve as the “hidden treasures” that students will discover. These may include but are not limited to: pieces of a 3-D puzzle (ideally of a dinosaur) that can be constructed once the dig is complete, shells, colorful rocks, cleaned chicken bones or artificial animal bones, plastic dinosaurs, etc.
    • Obtain one or more large, shallow plastic containers (common 40–60 quart, “under bed” storage containers work very well).
    • In a large plastic container, prepare the plaster mixture by mixing eight parts sand, one part plaster, and one part water. Fill the container about halfway. (The ratios of this mixture can be adjusted to achieve various textures and ease of digging. A higher ratio of sand creates a more “crumbly” rock, for example, making the objects more easily accessible.)
    • Set the objects throughout the mixture, dispersing them in a variety of locations and at a variety of depths.
    • Pour another layer of plaster mixture on top of the objects. Be sure all of the objects are completely covered.
    • Set the container to dry for several hours in a dry, warm location.
    • Once dry, cover the top with a thin layer of sand to create the effect of multiple layers of earth.
  • Consider:

    • Creating multiple “dig sites.” Each Lab group may have its own, or two Lab groups might share. Fewer students sharing a dig site will result in a greater number of objects discovered by each student and a greater amount of time the dig site can be used.
    • Using marker or string to divide each dig site into six equal sections. This will help students more effectively share the space as well as record their findings in their Labs notebooks.
    • Covering the table or area of the floor on which the dig sites will be placed with a large piece of plastic or butcher block paper for easier cleanup.

Reflect on Learning

  • Post: Sentence frames or picture clues for any reflection questions you will use regularly (optional).



  • Labs song (one to display)

  • Text for Storytime (chosen by teacher)

Setting Goals

  • Labs notebook (new; one per student and one for teacher modeling)

  • Pencils (one per student)

  • Learning target(s) (one to display for each Lab; see Launch Stage: At-a-Glance for the specific targets for each Lab)

In this Lab

  • Simulated dig sites (one for teacher modeling and one per Lab group)

  • Chisel (two or three to share)

  • Small hammers (two or three to share)

  • Paintbrushes (variety of sizes; several to share)

  • Toothbrushes (several to share)

  • Tweezers (several to share)

  • Magnifying glasses (several to share)

  • Labs notebook (one for teacher modeling and one per student)

Reflecting on Learning

  • Labs song (one to display)

  • Labs notebook (one for teacher modeling and one per student)