Teach the Earth > Paleontology > Course Descriptions > Paleobiology


Thomas Olszewski

Texas A&M University
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


Principles of paleobiology; study of organisms important in the marine fossil record; application of paleontology to geologic problems

Course URL:
Subject: Geoscience:Paleontology
Resource Type: Course Information
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Paleontology
Course Size:


Course Context:

This is a majors-level paleontology course with Historical Geology as a prerequisite. It is required for the BS in geology and is an elective for the BA in Geology or the BS in Geophysics. It includes 3 50-minute lectures per week and a 3-hour lab. There are two field trips to outcrops (one day-long on a Saturday and the other during the normal lab period) as well as a field trip to examine core at the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), which is housed on the Texas A&M campus. Most of the students have already completed the calculus course sequence required for all of our majors and many have had linear algebra and differential equations. In addition, most have had previous experience in the field as part of a field methods course or on field trips.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to use fossils to help interpret sedimentary rock
Students should be able to articulate a historical hypothesis/explanation
Students should be able to quantitatively assess uncertainty in observations

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Lab exercises are explicitly focused on carrying out the stated goals. Field trips focus on using fossils to interpret rock in the field, several lab exercises introduce various approaches to estimating confidence intervals for paleontological/stratigraphic data, and several lab exercises (particularly the IODP trip) focus on the analysis/interpretation of specific historical events in Earth's past. Assessment is based on lab reports and exam questions (short answer and essay format).

Skills Goals

student writing (short lab reports and abstracts)
quantitative abilities (particularly formulating questions quantitatively)

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Goals are achieved by providing opportunities to implement the skills, in the field and using real data.

Attitudinal Goals

Part of my intent is to provide students with knowledge of basic biological principles that are necessary to understand the rock record. No biology courses are required for our majors (in contrast to math, physics, and chemistry), so for many of them, this is the only exposure to these principles.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

I have no formal assessment of this goal, but I do pay attention to anecdotal reports from my colleagues about how students who have already taken my class subsequently approach labs and research.


Quizzes, exams, lab reports, personal observation.


Paleobiology Syllabus, 2008 (Acrobat (PDF) 108kB May15 09)

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