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Teaching Paleontology in the 21st Century
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Cutting Edge > Paleontology > Teaching Activities > Evolution in Your "Pet" Group

Evolution in Your "Pet" Group

Peg Yacobucci
,
Bowling Green 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 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 9, 2009

Summary

This writing exercise asks students to use library resources to locate a peer-reviewed journal article that describes research on the evolution of their individual "pet" taxonomic group. After reading the article, students must write a 2-3 page summary and critique of it, applying concepts they have learned in the course to evaluate the scientific merits of the paper. In addition to learning about evidence for evolution and specific evolutionary events, this activity shows students how to find and evaluate research articles, skills that can be applied to their independent research projects due later in the semester.

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Context

Audience

Upper-level undergraduate course in paleontology

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have been introduced to the concepts of evolution and natural selection.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is a stand-alone writing assignment given about five weeks into the semester. For many students, it is a first introduction into how to use library resources to locate a journal article on a topic, which will be useful for the required independent research project due later in the semester.

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

In this activity, students will learn about:
- The process of evolution and evidence for it
- Evolutionary events within the geologic history of their "pet" taxonomic group
- Various other paleontological concepts, depending on the article they choose to read

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students will gain experience in:
- Clearly and concisely summarizing a research article
- Critically evaluating the scientific content of a research article

Other skills goals for this activity

Students will gain experience in:
- Using library resources, including scholarly databases and peer-reviewed journals
- Reading a scholarly article
- Writing about paleontological research

Description of the activity/assignment

In the first week of the course, students are introduced to the major groups of animals and single-celled eukaryotes that comprise most of the fossil record. At that time, each student selects one group (kingdom, phylum or class) of organism to be their special "pet" group for the rest of the semester. Several assignments are then tied to these groups, including this activity, which is a writing assignment directly following the class lectures on evolution and natural selection. Students are asked to use the scholarly article database GeoRef to locate a peer-reviewed journal article that describes research on the evolution of their "pet" group (or some specific member of it). After reading the article, students must write a 2-3 page summary and critique of it, applying concepts they have learned in the course to evaluate the scientific merits of the paper. If time permits, students are also invited to spend a few minutes presenting their summary and critique during class so that the students can learn about each other's "pets".

Determining whether students have met the goals

The exercise is evaluated on four components:
- Selection of an appropriate, peer-reviewed article
- Clarity and correctness of the students' summary of the paper, using their own words and including all the requested components
- Thoughtfulness and depth of the students' critique of the paper
- Demonstration of basic writing competence (e.g., spelling, grammar, citations)

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