What Can We Learn From Fossils

Joann Hochstein
Central Florida Community College
Author Profile


To learn how paleontologist use fossils and rocks to learn about extinct organisms and paleoenvironments. Students use photographs to infer information about a living and an extinct organism. This allows students to experience a simplified process of how paleontologist make intpretations about extinct organism.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



undergraduate non-major Dinosaurs course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

basic anatomy, calculating speeds from morphology, how morphology reflects basic behaviors and movement

How the activity is situated in the course

stand alone exercise


Content/concepts goals for this activity

undertsand how paleontologist make intpretation about organisms based on aviable information

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

formulating a hypothesis and synthesis of ideas

Other skills goals for this activity

use the WWW to research information about the locality of the extinct animal and write a defense for the conclusions about the locality

Description of the activity/assignment

Students have learned throughout the course how paleontologists make interpretations about fossils. As we covered the various dinosaur groups we covered what interpretations have been made about their growth rates, eating habits, speeds, and etc. There is also a discussion of how paleontologists have made these interpretations. This activity is associated with the Taphonomy chapter and allows students to use the tools that they have acquired throughout the course to make interpretation about a modern animal and an extinct animal. Each student receives a packet of information on a modern animal and an extinct animal. This packet includes various pictures of the skeleton, foot prints, teeth, skull, and etc. To complete the assignment each student must synthesize the knowledge they learned throughout the course and make supported conclusions about each animal. They also must complete a write up of the locality of the extinct animal and what is known about the paleoecology.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Reasonably defend their conclusions

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials