The Pangea Puzzle

Mark D. Uhen
,
Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Earth Sciences, George Mason University
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Summary

Students learn how to use the Paleobiology Database (PBDB) to produce maps of fossils on the present-day Earth's surface, as well as past continental configurations. They will then use these maps to understand the biogeographic distributions of fossil organisms, and how these distributions constitute evidence for past continental plate positions.

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Context

Audience

To be used in an introductory or intermediate undergraduate course, including (but not limited to) physical geology, historical geology, paleontology, etc. Can be used with non-majors or majors from two or four year institutions. Each student or student pair will need access to a laptop or desktop computer connected to the internet, running an internet browser.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

  • Outline the geographic distribution of a species
  • Describe the basic tenets of plate tectonics
  • Summarize the geologic time scale
  • Describe past supercontinents

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity can be used as a lecture, lab, or homework activity.

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Construct a map of fossil occurrences on the present-day Earth's surface
  • Construct a map of fossil occurrences on the Earth's surface at various times in Earth's past
  • Identify the past distributions of fossils on ancient continents and supercontinents
  • Explain how the present-day distributions of fossil organisms are different from their distribution during the time of their deposition as fossils
  • Develop hypotheses regarding why the present-day distribution of fossil occurrences is dramatically different from their distribution during the time of their deposition as fossils.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This activity prompts students to explore the distribution of fossils in today's geography, to create hypotheses as to how those fossil distributions were achieved, and to test those hypotheses.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

Students learn how to use the Paleobiology Database (PBDB) to produce maps of fossils on the present-day Earth's surface, as well as past continental configurations. They will then use these maps to understand the biogeographic distributions of fossil organisms, and how these distributions constitute evidence for past continental plate positions.

This activity is designed to be flexible and can be used as a lecture, lab, or homework activity. The duration of the activity ranges from 1-1.5 hours, depending on how many fossil distributions are plotted.

Students can work as individuals or in pairs and class size can range from a small seminar (< 10 students) to a large lecture (> 100), as long as sufficient computer facilities are available.

Each student or student pair will need access to a laptop or desktop computer connected to the internet, running an internet browser.

The Pangea Puzzle (Acrobat (PDF) 62kB Jul5 17)

Determining whether students have met the goals

Formative assessment
  • Can be accomplished in lecture or lab by observing student progress and trouble-shooting challenges.
  • Can also double check that the major tasks (i.e., constructing modern maps, constructing past maps) are accomplished in a timely manner and are accurate.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

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Paleontology resources from across Teach the Earth »

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Early Earth resources from across Teach the Earth »

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