Cutting Edge > Paleontology > Teaching Activities > Take home final, using FossilPlot

Take home final, using FossilPlot

Leif Tapanila
,
Idaho State University
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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 page first made public: Jun 8, 2009

Summary

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.

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Context

Audience

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.

Goals

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.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

FossilPlot 1.1 (more info)
FossilPlot 2.0

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