Make a Model Fossil
In this investigative activity, students will gather materials from their outdoor environment and work individually (or in pairs) to create a model of a fossil using primarily modeling clay and glue. Students will form and discuss the differences between a "mold" and a "cast" model fossil(s).
Along with these basic concepts and vocabulary, students will be asked guided, critical thinking skill questions and will be learn to interpret different visual models. Further investigation will occur when students are asked to discuss the differences and similarities of fossil models when compared to real fossils.
Context for Use
This classroom/outdoor activity will take approximately 30-40 minutes depending on class size, materials available, and whether or not the classroom instructor takes class time to have students go out into the field to search for materials, or provide them to the class. The 'fossils' (glue) will need a minimum of overnight/24 hours to become hardened before being handled/removed by students.
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Field Activity, Lab Activity
Special Interest: Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Paleontology
Description and Teaching Materials
-Seashell (or other 'once-living,' natural material such as leaves, twigs, flower, etc.)
-Small plastic bowl
-White glue (not glue stick)
1. Coat outside of object with layer of petroleum jelly
2. Press the object into the clay to make a model
3. Remove object carefully from clay
4. Place the clay with the object's shape into the plastic bowl.
5. Slowly pour/drizzle white glue into the imprint. Fill it completely. This will also make a model of a fossil.
6. Let the glue harden (at minimum) overnight. When hardened, carefully separate the formed glue from the clay.
Answer questions from Investigate worksheet and then conclude lesson with having students compare/contrast their model with real fossils.
This activity is fully documented in the Harcourt Science, 2006 Teacher Edition on pgs. 214-221.
More source information and complete references can be found by going to the Harcourt Science website:
Teaching Notes and Tips
Students may need to be reminded while searching for their objects about the differences between (once) living things and non-living things. For example, often students will select a rock, or a bottle cap, to use to create their fossil. Rocks cannot be used because they are non-living objects, etc.
Further assessment will be made by instructor observations during the fossil model selection and formation processes.
Students will have the opportunity to complete a self-assessment by reflecting on their work and completing a checklist of their progress during the lab. Students may also work in pairs of groups to check each others work/outcomes.