Teach the Earth > Paleontology > Teaching Activities > An Exploratory Activity in Marine Diversity Analysis

Diversity Analysis

David Sunderlin
Lafayette 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 21, 2009


This activity introduces students to the Sepkoski database of fossil invertebrates through guided use of online access to the compendium. The activity calls for data analysis and display as well as student response to pattern.

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undergraduate course in paleobiology for biology and geology majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students enter the exercise with basic fossil group identification skills ( to the level of trilobites, brachiopods, etc. but not to the level of proetids, strophomenids, etc.). Topics already covered in the class include taphonomy, some morphometrics, species concepts, darwinian evolution, and some phylogeny/cladistics.

How the activity is situated in the course

segue exercise that bridges the analytical paleobiology part of the course to the organismal paleobiology part of the course


Content/concepts goals for this activity

database analysis, trends in biodiversity through time

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

formulation of hypotheses, pattern recognition and testing

Other skills goals for this activity

using online databases, graphical display skills, spreadsheet skills

Description of the activity/assignment

This activity is designed to do a number of things. Topically, the exercise provides the students with the chance to examine the data from which the diversity curve of marine invertebrates has been constructed. The trends that the students notice both in the overall diversity and which fossil groups are making it up segue into the organismal half of the course. Analytically, the exercise gives students practice with online databases, spreadsheet analysis and display, and hypothesis testing as they compare the diversity histories of different groups.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I evaluate the degree to which the students engage in the activity and the act of analyzing the data they obtained from the online database. This is clear in the graphical displays of data and the reflective response they provide about their plots.

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