Paleontology: Death, Destruction and Dinosaurs

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.

Exline, Joseph D. Earth's Changing Surface. Needham, MA: Prentice Hall, 2000. Print.
Springer, Dale A., and Judith G. Scotchmoor. "Unearthing the Past." Dinosaurs: the Science behind the Stories. Ed. Judith G. Scotchmoor, Dale SA Springer, Brent H. Breithaupt, and Anthony R. Fiorello. Alexandria, VA: American Geological Institute, 2002. 3-6. Print.
Parker, Steve, and Raymond Louis Bernor. The Practical Paleontologist. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990. Print.
Selden, Paul, and John R. Nudds. Evolution of Fossil Ecosystems. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2004. Print.
Walker, Cyril Alexander., David J. Ward, and Colin Keates. Fossils. New York: DK, 2002. Print.

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).

Media Used: 
All web resources are listed and linked on our class webpage.
Interim Assessments: 

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.

Significant Assignments: 

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.

Sample PBATs: 
In what environment was this dinosaur bone deposited and how does this environment compare to the environment where the dinosaur bone was quarried?
Are the Morrison Formation's sediments biogenic or abiogenic?
How can fossils be used to determine how environments have changed over time?