Knowledge dissemination in the Dinosaur Train animated series. How to popularise palaeontology for pre-school children


Paleontology is “the science of prehistoric life – of the fauna and flora of the geologic past” (Schindewolf 1993, p. 1), thus it is a complex, hybrid domain that combines methods of analysis from a wide range of disciplines, from the hard sciences (ex., biology, zoology, geology, chemistry, etcetera). Paleontology is also a discipline that is extremely popular among the general public, since “dinosaurs embody the drastic changes that life on Earth has undergone. Chasing after dinosaurs is really a quest to fill in part of our own backstory […]” (Switek 2014). Such popularity creates specific expectations in the public, who wants to receive reliable as well as enjoyable representations of their favorite prehistoric creatures. Children in particular are enthusiastic about dinosaurs as it is demonstrated by merchandise of all sorts, dedicated exhibitions, narrative and syllabus books, movies, websites, and TV shows. The present study investigates the animated series Dinosaur Train, chosen since it contains animated episodes and live action segments in which a real paleontologist gives scientific facts about the dinosaurs seen in each episode. Sample episodes are analysed verbally and visually: the verbal features are examined to identify the strategies of knowledge dissemination (KD) present in the series, while visual patterns were investigated through a multimodal analysis (Kress, van Leeuwen 2006; Baldry, Thibault 2006). In particular, the study considers the way(s) in which the series presents dinosaurs that are already well-known and those that are more unfamiliar. Results show that the popularity of the series is due to the structure of the episodes, composed of several phases, which make the series dynamic, thus suitable to young children’s attention span, as well as to an accessible language that makes the stories interesting, also thanks to the representation of everyday situations lived by the dinosaurs that are already familiar to the viewers.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v40p95

Keywords: knowledge dissemination; Palaeontology; multimodal discourse analysis; pre-school children; dinosaurs; ESP


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