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Teaching Paleontology in the 21st Century
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Cutting Edge > Paleontology > Teaching Activities > Fossil/modern mole phylogeny

Fossil/modern mole phylogeny

Samantha Hopkins
,
University of Oregon
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This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process.

This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.



This page first made public: Jun 4, 2009

Summary

Students code characters from fossil taxa to add to an existing morphological phylogenetic analysis of moles. This activity is original research; the fossil taxa have never before been included in a phylogenetic analysis.

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Context

Audience

Undergraduate/graduate course in vertebrate paleontology.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

basic skeletal morphology
basic phylogenetics, including tree generation and tree description and comparison.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a term project that takes all quarter, culminating in a paper.

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

  1. phylogenetic analysis, especially the difficulties of character coding and the relationship between characters and the resulting phylogeny
  2. advanced understanding of some aspect of skeletal morphology.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  1. reading and critically evaluating scientific literature
  2. manipulation and analysis of phylogenetic data
  3. evaluation and comparison of competing hypotheses
  4. a priori and a posteriori hypothesis evaluation
  5. developing hypotheses for future studies from existing results

Other skills goals for this activity

  1. writing up the results of a scientific study
  2. coordinating group work
  3. entering phylogenetic data and running a phylogenetic analysis using current research software

Description of the activity/assignment

This study is introduced at the beginning of class, and runs throughout the quarter. Students are first given a paper describing a morphological phylogeny of modern moles. The first few weeks' labs teach the students basic phylogenetic methods and the aspects of skeletal morphology needed to understand the character descriptions. Students in groups of 2 or 3 are assigned a set of characters from a particular region of the skeleton (i.e. humerus, lower teeth, skull, etc.). Those groups are responsible for learning to distinguish those characters on a representative group of modern specimens (for which the character codings are already available in the paper they have) and then coding those characters for a number of fossil taxa. The fossils are either described in papers posted on the course website or are represented by specimens held in the instructor's research lab. Students are responsible for finding time to come in and work with the specimens. The next to last lab of the quarter is concerned with analyzing data within each group, for the class as a whole, for fossil taxa alone, and for fossil and modern taxa. Students then write up the results of their analyses for their term project due at the end of the quarter.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Evaluation is based on the completeness and consistency of the character matrices (I don't have a right answer a priori, but I can tell by the way they put their data together) as well as their performance in lab and their writeup of the results.

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