Teach the Earth > Paleontology > Teaching Activities > Taphonomy Lab

Taphonomy Lab

James R. Ebert
State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oneonta
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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 28, 2009


This lab introduces students to the many modes by which fossils may be preserved.

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This is a lower to upper level course required of majors in Geology, Water Resources, Earth Science and Adolescence Education Earth Science. It is typically the second geology course that these students take. It is also taken by majors in Elementary Education who have concentrations in Earth or General Science.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students have had some practice with observation but this is their first introduction to fossils.

How the activity is situated in the course

This lab is conducted early in the course as the students' first examination of fossils.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Modes of fossil preservation
Variety of ways that fossils may appear

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students are required to observe and then make sense of their observations.

Other skills goals for this activity

Working in groups

Description of the activity/assignment

This is an introductory laboratory excercise that familiarizes students with the general appearance of fossils and the multiple modes of preservation that are possible.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Student lab reports are evaluated for accuracy of descriptions, accuracy of determination of mode of preservation and their preliminary identification of common fossils, typically to phylum level.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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