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sharktoothboy

ideas for paleontology class

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sharktoothboy

Hey everyone, within the next couple of months I am going to start teaching a paleontology class to middle school students, it will run until June. I've been thinking about how I'm going to structure the class. I don't want to make it too complicated but also want to make sure it's interesting. I was thinking about having each month be a different topic, maybe go through the time periods from the oldest fossils to the youngest but I'm afraid that will be too complicated. I was wondering if any of you have ideas of how I could structure the class. Thanks in advance for your help!

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Sagebrush Steve

Another thing to consider is tying your teaching to things they can relate to.  So maybe you show a clip from one of the Jurassic Park movies as a way to open a discussion about how Hollywood treats dinosaurs vs. what paleontologists really know.  Something to keep them engaged rather than in a coma as @Ptychodus04 pointed out.

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doushantuo

People are hardwired for nice imagery.I'd make that my starting point.

Science is serious,but can produce (unintentionally) funny images

qugdelptttympwillist.jpg

 

qugdelptttympwillist.jpg

Kinds of animals,and how slightly strange shapes can resurface in different kinds of animals

 

 

 

 

qugdelptttympwillist.jpg

teetympwillist.jpg

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Wrangellian

I wouldn't downplay the geologic timescale.. At least show it to them (both the phanerozoic and the whole thing including precambrian) and point out where certain organisms/events fit in, and why they are arranged with the most recent at the top and oldest at the bottom. I wouldn't expect them to know all the period names!

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BobWill

I don't know why Kane suggested I help since my field is electronics not education. He may have heard about my ”Fossil Bob” class I present to the 3 or 4 local 4th grade classes once a year. They only give me 40 minutes or so per class and that really limits me to hitting a few points. This would be very different from what you will have time for. What I cover has changed some over the years mostly by dropping the things that bring the most yawns so I won't claim to be good at organizing a lesson plan but I will go over what I have tried to get across to the students.

 

I mostly pass around some fossils they can find locally and explain where to look and what tools to take on a field trip. I also show simple prep tools and explain techniques. My approach is to interest them in paleontology as a hobby. The option to adopt it as a career will come along if they're inclined. I briefly cover deep time but don't expect them to remember much of it. That at least gives them a starting place if they decide to explore it more or take a course that involves it in the future.

 

I spend some of my limited time on what a fossil is and the dozen or so different ways fossils can be preserved with examples of as many as possible. For the purpose of identifying fossils I also touch briefly on taxonomy but don't try to go into phylogeny for that age group with so little time.

 

I have also done occasional short classes for adults. For this I don't prepare anything different since I find I can just use what I present to the kids with a little more detail added. I also enjoy talking to people at shows when I do promotion work for the Dallas Paleontological Society. For those who know nothing about fossils the most frequent question I try to answer is why we bother studying them. I begin with the usefulness of the fossil record for things like finding oil reserves by explaining that geologists look at the fossils that come out of the ground at a well-drilling site as they go deeper, to decide whether to keep drilling there or give up and try another site. If they are interested further I talk about how fossils are at the root of our understanding of evolution which has added to our knowledge in and answered mamy questions in other fields like comparative anatomy, genetics, microbiology and embryology. I hope some of this can spark some ideas for your class.

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doushantuo

Bobwill,if I am not mistaken most oil companies have sacked their biostratigraphers.

neural networks,automated image recognition,etc

Hydrocarbon exploration might not be a subject to touch upon:P,it might elicit discussion on changing energy policies

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BobWill
31 minutes ago, doushantuo said:

Bobwill,if I am not mistaken most oil companies have sacked their biostratigraphers.

neural networks,automated image recognition,etc

Hydrocarbon exploration might not be a subject to touch upon:P,it might elicit discussion on changing energy policies

Correct but it is what they used before modern tools were available. The discussion could then be redirected to how we could already be using more wind and solar by now if decision-makers had only listened to more forward-thinking concepts when we spoke out in the 70's. ;)

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jdp

What does the course schedule look like? How many classes, what level of regularity, and context (i.e. is it during normal school hours or is it an elective weekend course? Are the kids there because they want to learn about fossils, or because the state demands they attend classes?)

 

Kane's advice is all really good as a starting point. A little more info on the course setup itself might helpful for additional suggestions.

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Monica

Hello all and @sharktoothboy!

 

I think that what everyone has suggested so far is great!  I don't teach about fossils, but I frequently talk about them in my classes because my students know that I search for and collect fossils, and they love hearing about it.  I find that my students (high school, so ages 14-18) love hearing about what goes on in their teachers' lives outside of school, so for me, that means I talk quite a bit about (1) my family (any story involving my kids is usually a hit!), (2) what I do for fun (which includes fossil-hunting).  So, perhaps talking about your personal experiences with respect to fossils might be something good to inject into your lessons - I'm sure the kids will love hearing your stories, especially if they're funny (e.g., my students got a hoot out of the story I told about my first experience hunting at Hungry Hollow when I had to pull Viola out of the mud separately from her boots!!!).  Everyone loves getting stuff, too, so if you add in some way to hand out fossils to the kids, I'm sure that will be well-received (e.g., give fossil prizes to students who answer questions correctly and/or give students "grab bags" of fossils during your last lesson).  And if you need some fossil donations to help with the latter suggestion, then just let me know - I'd be happy to send you some invertebrate stuff :)

 

Best of luck!

 

Monica

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Brett Breakin' Rocks

  I'd only like to echo what everyone else has said and stress moving the class from visual examples, to discussion (lecture), to hands-on .. and right back round to keep them engaged and help them to retain the information.  Have them take notes with pencil and paper. I like @Monica's idea, of having them come away with a small example if possible. @JohnBrewer's suggestion of having a lesson plan with timed intervals has helped me too .... Though, since I'm new to teaching those times are fluid the first couple of go rounds. 

 

  I teach graduate and undergraduate college students art/animation classes and have to sometimes fill the entire 2.5 hours of class with something akin to lecture. I do however make an effort to break the discussion as stated above so that the retention is higher with the students.  Repetition works as well ... but lecturing at anything beyond  20-30 minutes will bring you a word retention rate of something like 50% ?  So having high quality visual references, video, and hands-on discussions would be exciting.

 

Oh, yeah .. and finding cheap replicas/ shamers/ fragladons that the students can toss around and explore is a great idea.

 

Good luck .. it sounds like fun !

Cheers,

Brett

 

 

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ashcraft

I have taught such to individuals from age 8 to 80.  Some were short format, some were measured in months.  The geologic time scale is very structured and easy to work from.  Do not limit yourself to paleontology.  I do a section to advanced students (dual credit) called the geology of biology.  If you have the knowledge and the resources, concentrate on the paleoecology of your area.  Mass extinction events are important, and interesting to most students.  The evolution of marsupials versus placental mammals are excellent examples of convergent evolution.  The formation of the Isthmus of Panama, and how fossils show competitive outcomes of thylacosmilus versus eusmilus.  The movement of large predatory birds into N. America is also interesting.

 

Somebody up-thread mentioned the seventies.  What I remember about those times was the onset of an ice-age, and the prediction that we would be out of oil by now.  Which I also cover.........so much is perspective.

 

Brent Ashcraft

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sharktoothboy

Wow! Thank you so such for the great advice everyone!! This has really helped me a lot and really got me thinking. The class is for an after school program and only meets once per week for an hour. There are multiple classes, I'm teaching a paleontology class and an art class. The students will be able to choose what classes they want to be in so hopefully it'll be easier to keep them interested. I'm definitely gonna bring in fossils like broken megs and dino bone chunks to pass around. Hopefully we can arrange a trip to one of the New Jersey fossil sites at the end of the year. I would love for the students to get hands on experience. Thanks again everyone!

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doushantuo

[PT one]

Our planet is undergoing climatic changes(manmade or otherwise,but with possibly profound consequences).The study of fossils and fossil ecosystems is helping us in trying to understand those changes.

Particularly in paleoceanography and paleoclimatology,fossils are really indispensable as proxies.

 

E.g.fossil foraminifera help us understand the distribution ,severity and magnitude of past earthquakes

 

Particularly the miscellaneous isotopes of major elements and the presence & distribution of trace elements* in fossils of calcifying fossil organisms are useful.

*Neodymium in conodonts immediately springs to mind

 

To understand their distributions we need to study the organization and composition of mineral skeletons.

We need to study the past geographical distribution of fossil biota,to understand the influence of paleoclimate on our planet,and the geodynamics of Earth.

Past strain tensors can be deciphered by studying the deformation of fossils.

Various minerals can be discovered by partially using evidence of/from past life.

Coal,gas,tar/asphalt are the chemically and physically altered remains of past life.

Leaf margin analysis,the analysis of stomata in fossil plants,lapse rate analysis,ooh my ,i'm losing it,somebody stop me:D

To understand the life that surrounds us now,we first need to understand how it got to be the way it manifests itself to us today.

Increasingly more fossils of parasites are discovered ,which might help us understand and combat diseases that kill or severely disable people

Past mass mortalities(thinking Brontothere "mass graves" here(VOORHIES!!) may possibly be correlated with atmospheric events

(volcaniclastic debris clogging up the tracheae of mammals,leading to sudden asphyxiation)

 

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jdp
18 hours ago, sharktoothboy said:

Wow! Thank you so such for the great advice everyone!! This has really helped me a lot and really got me thinking. The class is for an after school program and only meets once per week for an hour. There are multiple classes, I'm teaching a paleontology class and an art class. The students will be able to choose what classes they want to be in so hopefully it'll be easier to keep them interested. I'm definitely gonna bring in fossils like broken megs and dino bone chunks to pass around. Hopefully we can arrange a trip to one of the New Jersey fossil sites at the end of the year. I would love for the students to get hands on experience. Thanks again everyone!

Alright. This helps a bunch. I've got some concrete ideas/experience which I can pass along.

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sharktoothboy

@jdp That would be awesome, Thank you!

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jdp

So I spent the day traveling and my brain is a little scrambled, so this isn't going to come out as well-structured as I originally intended. My apologies.

 

First, I'm going to reiterate the Kane is 100% right that you need to come up with lesson plans centered around what you want the students to take away from each class.

 

That said, you're going to be dealing with a bunch of kids who just sat through 8 hours of classes and they're not going to want to sit through lectures or hour-long powerpoint slides. I would strongly suggest taking a lab-style approach to course design, with each lab focused on a single objective.

 

I wouldn't worry about teaching the big picture stuff. I would focus on giving them opportunities to spent that time observing nature, while providing just enough structure that they have a task to stay focused on. I would also make sure they have hands-on fossil experience every day, but I would also avoid trying to turn it into show-and-tell. Focus on teaching them science skills (observation, hypothesis, experimentation, data collection, research) instead of trying to teach them science facts (this is what this type of fossil looks like, this is what that type of fossil looks like, etc). 

 

While designing these lessons, you should keep in mind two things: the general structure of scientific inquiry and Bloom's taxonomy. Each lesson should have an objective that is somewhere in the upper 3 tiers of Bloom's Taxonomy (Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation/Creation) and where the students apply a basic understanding of the scientific method (make a hypothesis, make observations to test that hypothesis, and then analyze those observations to come to a conclusion about the hypothesis).

 

For example, you could teach the students how to use a dichotomous key to identify things and then then have the students use dichotomous keys to ID bulk fossils (maybe a large slab of Paleozoic marine invertebrates, or perhaps a bulk sample of shark teeth) and make comparisons between samples (say, a bulk collection of Calvert Cliffs shark teeth and a bulk collection of shark teeth from Sharktooth Hill....or whatever). Have them talk about what's the same, what's different, and what it might mean. For these sorts of things, you're going to need to do a bit of legwork in preparing references for them (dichotomous keys and/or photoguides, and compiling a little information about what each sort of animal they might find could be and what that means (e.g. this kind of crinoid likes this well-aerated water with a lot of current, this sort of ray eats crabs and clams, etc). Have them reconstruct the environment and maybe try drawing what they think the environment might have looked like.

 

If you have access to microscopes, you could combine this with sorting bulk matrix for microfossils. Everything is cooler with microscopes.

 

Another thing to try would be to have them think about fossils as parts of once-living animals. If you have access to prepared skeletons and similar fossil material (e.g. fish skeletons and fossil fish) then you could have them draw both the fossils and the modern skeletons and think about similarities and differences. A handful of Green River Knightia could go a long ways here. Or, give them skeletons and isolated bones and have them identify what the isolated bones were and think about what sort of animal they might have come from.

 

If you have a bunch of fossils from closely-related but clearly distinct animals (e.g. an assortment of trilobites, or ammonites, or brachiopods...make sure that whatever it is there are clear differences and commonalities they can pick up on immediately) you could guide them through a phylogenetic analysis exercise. Have them all look at the collection of fossils and identify characters and as a classroom, code all the characters for all the specimens. Then have each student come up with a phylogenetic tree, and then have them all calculate tree-length for their chosen tree. At the end of the class, compare treelengths and pick the shortest one. Whoever gets the shortest tree in the classroom wins a prize (maybe make it their fossil).

 

Another possibility is, if you can get your hands on a bunch of Cretaceous or Cenozoic fossil leaves, you can do [url="http://clamp.ibcas.ac.cn/CLAMP_Classic.html"]leaf margin analysis.[/url] This allows you to estimate paleoclimate. If you can tell them where the leaves came from and what sorts of fossil animals lives there, this would allow the students to make some guesses about what sort of climate they could expect at the site and then test it using CLAMP.

 

 

You could also do something with gait and running speed (say, in a dinosaur) using trackways and skeleton drawings. I can hunt down some references for you on how to do this. This might be most effective if you can print out an entire trackway and spread it out on the floor and have the students take their own measurements. The math is relatively easy and you could provide the students with clear specific instructions about how to calculate each piece of the final result (stride length, leg length, and how those relate to each other to equal speed).

 

These are just some thoughts off the top of my head. I've done a few of these in classrooms before and can tell you that the leaf margin analysis and identification exercises are particularly successful ones. I know people who teach the phylogeny exercise with chocolate bars and it's apparently a huge success. I've mostly taught these at a somewhat higher level, but I think with a little bit of cleverness and work you could simplify them to a level where middle school students would be able to do those things. You may also be able to find online resources for designing these sorts of activities for a middle school classroom. I'd be happy to help you look for course activity materials that will fit with the sorts of materials you have available.

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sharktoothboy

@jdp Thank you so much for the great ideas! I think the students will really like them. The last thing I wanna do is bore them. I'm definitely gonna take your advice and make it hands on every day. The date the class is going to begin isn't set in stone but once it is I should be able to create interesting lesson plans based on your ideas and the ideas of the other members. I will definitely try to incorporate as many of your ideas as possible depending on the materials we have available in the classroom. Unfortunately I'll most likely be teaching this class in a room that doesn't have much scientific equipment available like microscopes. I've found some resources online that I think might be useful as well and am definitely gonna look for more. That would be awesome if you could send me anything you think I might find useful, Thank you very much!

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WhodamanHD
1 hour ago, sharktoothboy said:

I've found some resources online t

Just in case you may find it useful, Earth viewer (which also has a IOS app) is good for timescale, paleoclimate, and extinctions (as well as some other things)

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sharktoothboy

@WhodamanHD That's awesome! I'll definitely be using that to show how the earth has changed. Thank you!

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Bobby Rico

Hi I don’t know if this is too out of date but I think the layout and delivery of these programs may help to inspire you and maybe give you some ideas.

 

I love the Royal  Christmas lecture even if they aimed at kids.

 

“History in our bones” has a sentimental place in my heart.

 

good luck 

 

Cheers Bobby 

 

 https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=2&ved=0ahUKEwjTnpz9-sHYAhVBB8AKHSABAZUQwqsBCBAwAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fm.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dj63109kvNlg&usg=AOvVaw2q_iX90QuUfQCJ9e3Wm2Qb

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WhodamanHD
24 minutes ago, sharktoothboy said:

@WhodamanHD That's awesome! I'll definitely be using that to show how the earth has changed. Thank you!

No problem, happy to help:D

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