Take home final, using FossilPlot
Idaho State University
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This page first made public: Jun 8, 2009
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Final exam take-home assignment uses FossilPlot to access the Sepkoski Database to identify patterns of extinction and survival that allow the student to develop an argument for a naturalistic cause of a mass extinction event. Framed as an 'open question', students can delve into as much detail as they wish, and their solution is evaluated on the merit of consistency of observation with interpretation.
upper division undergraduates and graduates in paleontology
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
basic systematics of marine animals; paleoecological role of various marine animals; stratigraphic significance of marine animals; technical ability to use FossilPlot, Excel or other computer software introduced in the course; Darwinian evolution; historical geology; ability to find and read relevant geoscience articles.
How the activity is situated in the course
Part of the final exam. This is a take home assignment that the student is given 7-10 days to complete.
Content/concepts goals for this activity
basic systematics of marine animals; paleoecological role of various marine animals; stratigraphic significance of marine animals; Darwinian evolution; historical geology
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
ability to find and read relevant geoscience articles; identifying multiple working hypotheses; choosing relevant taxa to generate data to address the hypothesis; synthesizing and analyzing data to develop an argument
Other skills goals for this activity
technical ability to use FossilPlot, Excel or other computer software introduced in the course; writing
Description of the activity/assignment
This final exam take-home assignment naturally comes at the end of the course and makes use of the various skills and concepts learned throughout the semester. Students choose a mass extinction event and plot any number of graphs depicting the diversity of faunas through the crisis. Students find primary literature references on the potential causes of the mass extinction, and use these to formulate an argument, based only on their FossilPlot data, as to which causal mechanism was responsible for the mass extinction event. Students are asked to be creative and quantitative in synthesizing and analyzing their data, especially by paying attention to the paleoecological role of taxa and their diversity prior to and following the event. Students provide a written argument that links their unique observations and synthesis to a causal mechanism.
Determining whether students have met the goals
The assignment is graded on the acquisition of primary data, literature review of extinction mechanisms, synthesis and analysis of data, and the quality (not necessarily the correctness) of their argument as it relates the unique data they produced.
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