Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Activities > My Favorite Dead Thing

My Favorite Dead Thing

John Dawson
Kirkwood Community College
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the 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 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: May 25, 2008


This is a short writing assignment asking the students to write about their favorite extinct organism. This gives the students a chance to explore something that they find interesting and at the same time link it back to some of the ideas discussed in class.

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This is an assignment for my historical geology class (see course profile) which is aimed at students that have never had a geology class before.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have a good feel for the geologic time scale, know how organisms get fossilized, understand basic systematics, understand life styles, and ecosystems.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity usually occurs near the end of the semester. It allows the students a chance to delve into researching some organism we may have mentioned briefly in class.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

I would want the students to be able to:
1) Describe the anatomy of an extinct organism.
2) Place an organism in the context of the geologic record—both in space as well as time.
3) Describe the nature of the fossil record of an organism.
4) Describe the environment as well as the organism's role in its environment.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

This assignment is given near the end of the semester when the students have had a chance to learn about a lot about the fossil record. The major goal is for the students to have the opportunity to delve into a topic in more detail than we can normally do during the course of the semester. It also allows the student to demonstrate that they have internalized some of the major ideas in the class including the geologic time scale, fossils and fossilization, past environments and the roles organisms play in their ecosystem. Lastly, it should be fun and enjoyable assignment for the students.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I use a simple grading rubric (see additional file) that grades them on how they meet the requirements of the essay as well as how well the paper was written. It is a simple point scale and allows some freedom because each completed assignment tends to be very different then the others. Other instructors should feel free to modify rubric to fit their needs.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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