In this course students develop a strong foundation in the skills and background knowledge needed to participate in paleontological research. Topics include the formation of sedimentary rocks, erosion and deposition, identification of paleoenvironments using the rock record and fossil identification and formation. Finally, students learn the skill of fossil cleaning and preparation using authentic 150 million year old dinosaur fossils.
Students learn and study sedimentary rock identification, principles of sedimentology, fossil identification and formation, paleogeography, dinosaur habitats and habits, mass extinctions, and current climate in Wyoming (where the fossil was quarried).
Using authentic, 150-million year old dinosaur fossils, students are required to determine the kind of environment the bone was deposited and then compare that environment to the environment where the bone was quarried. This task is accomplished through the systematic observation and testing of the size and characteristic properties of the matrix rock surrounding the fossil. Students make inferences about the paleoenvironment of the fossil deposition and compare this with the environment of the fossil quarry. In addition to their research on the fossils, students clean, repair and restore the fossils as a service to the organization that has allowed us to use the materials.
An honors extension of this class is participation in a non-fiction literature circle that uses the book "Under a Green Sky" to focus on the "Big Five" mass extinctions in Earth's history and understanding the leading hypotheses about the causes of each.
All classwork and labs are included in the three class journals. These labs include a rock identification lab, river flow model lab, fossil identification lab, a series of labs concerning foraminifera, and finally a lab creating a to-scale model of geologic time.