Teach the Earth > Paleontology > Teaching Activities > Clam Dissection

Clam Dissection

Roy Plotnick
University of Illinois at Chicago
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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: Mar 18, 2011


Dissecting a living clam to see how soft parts and life mode can be reconstructed from the preserved shells.

Note: clams are purchased at a local market.

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Introductory paleontology course, selective for major.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered


How the activity is situated in the course

First lab in the course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

How paleontologists can reconstruct unpreserved aspects of organisms from their preserved parts.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Predicting morphology and life mode.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

Students observe clams (Mercenaria) in a salt water aquarium, paying attention to siphons and any burrowing. They then remove the clams and describe the external morphology. The clams are then dissected, with special attention made to features (siphons, muscles) that leave observable marks on the shells. They are then provided the shells of a different genus (Mya) and asked to predict the soft tissue morphology and life mode.

Determining whether students have met the goals

How well they make the prediction.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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