Fossil Collection and Museum Curation

Diana Boyer
SUNY Oswego
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  1. 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
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This page first made public: Jun 4, 2009


This assignment requires the collection of an individual fossil with appropriate supplimentary information in the field, identification of fossil, and exposes students to museum curation.

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This is an upper level geology course with a sed/strat prerequisite.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must be aware of appropriate collection methods in the field and how to access detailed taxonomic information in the literature.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a combined field and lab exercise that is associated with the large required field trip approximately 2/3 of the way through the semester. Fossils are collected in the field and then identified in the lab and using library resources.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goals of this assignment are to have students collect a fossil and important associated data. Also the indentification of a potentially obscure fossil provides another challenge in this assignment.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students need to evaluate what information is critical from a specific field site. They often need to be resourceful to identify fossils collected by investiating many scientific resources.

Other skills goals for this activity

This assignment also introduces students to museum curation and how important careful curation is to the science of paleontology.

Description of the activity/assignment

Before we go into the field, students are exposed to field collection techniques and appropriate information to collect at the outcrop. This assignment is good for field trips because students each collect 1 or few samples, but spend time on the outcrop measuring a section and collecting associated lithologic and other fossil data if available (locality information, exposure, over and underlying sedimentology, details of host rock, sedimentary structures, assocaited fossils, diversity and abundance, taphonomic condition of fossils, etc). The field locality can be anywhere where there are resaonably well preserved fossils (and should give students an appreciation of museum quality specimens). This allows this exercise to be flexible as field trip localities change. All of the information that they collect in the field will be included in their field notebook that is handed in at the end of the field trip for evaluation. In the lab-I used class time-students are asked to make a detailed sketch of their sample that they can take to the library with them, and a discussion is held as to where to look for information to identify specimens with. Students are given a week (variable depending on the availability of resources, for example if monographs need to be aquired through inter-library loan) to idenitfy their specimen and then asked to catalog them for the museum. They fill out a SUNY Oswego Paleontology Museum card, which they have seen all semester for their sample and are given the option to donate it to the collection or keep it.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students are evaluated on the completeness of field information based on required information on hand-out and other pertinent information discussed in the field, identification of specimen, and completed museum card.

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