Teach the Earth > Paleontology > Teaching Activities > Deductions from Fossil Preservtion

Deducations from Fossil Preservation

Steven M. Stanley
University of Hawaii
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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: Jun 4, 2009


This exercise helps students learn how to deduce things from modes of preservation of fossils. It teaches them how to be effective sleuths.

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This exercise can be used in either undergraduate or graduate courses.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

All they need is a logical mind. Background material is provided – partly, as needed, by the instructor on the scene.

How the activity is situated in the course

Stand-alone exercise


Content/concepts goals for this activity

How fossils form and what their preservational features reveal about preservational and diagenetic processes as well as modes of life.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This is all about deductive reasoning in the formation of hypotheses.

Other skills goals for this activity

The exercise can be conducted in groups. This may be especially desirable if there is a wide range of abilities within the class.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students will view fossils, sometimes with supporting illustrations, and answer questions about them via deductive reasoning. The exercise is highly interactive, with the instructor providing hints and helpful questions. The questions concern ways in which fossil preservation reveals information about things like what kind of organism the fossil represents, how that organism lived, and how the fossil came into being.

Determining whether students have met the goals

There will be similar, hands-on tasks in tests.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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