Life through Time: Investigating biostratigraphy with the PBDB

Christian George
High Point University
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Students learn how to use the Paleobiology Database (PBDB) to investigate the basic principles of biostratigraphy, including, index fossils and how fossils were used to construct the geologic timescale.

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To be used in an introductory or intermediate undergraduate course, including (but not limited to) physical geology, historical geology, paleontology, etc.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Student should be able to:
  • Use Microsoft Word to fill out answers in document (all parts)
  • Basic knowledge of the geologic time scale, including the units (Eons, Eras, Periods).
  • Some understanding of the fossil record, including how fossils are formed and that the rocks that preserve fossils are generally contemporaneous with the fossils.

How the activity is situated in the course

Can be used to introduce or reinforce biostratigraphic concepts, or to explore the geologic time scale.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will be able to:
  • Define the Principle of Faunal Succession
  • Explain which types of fossils are useful for biostratigraphy and why.
  • Define what an index fossils is, and which fossils make good index fossils?

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

There is a slight amount of interpretation of the spatial arraignment of fossils and their stratigraphic relationships.

Other skills goals for this activity

This activity will help to teach an introduction to using the Navigator web app of the Paleobiology Database.

Description of the activity/assignment

Included is an introduction to using the Paleobiology Database. Lesson can be used with or without this part if the students are familiar with the database. Part one focuses on the time scale and faunal changes through time. The second part is a brief exploration of index fossils.

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 a browser.

It is divided into two parts and can be modified by picking and choosing which parts (and which questions within parts) to include. It is a short activity that is expressly written at an intro level. For intro level students the lesson should be fine as written, for upper level students it could be a review or an intro to a more specific lesson on a biostratigraphy topic.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Can be accomplished in lecture or lab by observing student progress and trouble-shooting challenges.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

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