Teach the Earth > Paleontology > Course Descriptions > Introduction to Paleontology

Introduction to Paleontology

Judy Massare

SUNY Brockport
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


The course covers major principles of paleontology: recognizing and describing fossil species, biostratigraphy, classification systems, evolution, paleoecology, and functional morphology.

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

less than 15

Course Context:

This is an upper division course with prerequisites of introductory physical geology and historical geology. The course has a 3-hour lab each week. It is an elective for earth science majors (teaching certification students) and a requirement for geology majors. About 3/4 of the students are earth science majors. The course is not a prerequisite for any other course in the department.

Course Goals:

1. Students should be able to read the title and abstract of an article in a professional paleontological journal and have a general understanding of what it is about, even if the details are too technical.
2. Students should be able to explain the biases and limitations of paleontological data.
3. Students should be able to recognize the characteristics of the major phyla and classes of invertebrate animals, and know where to find information about them.
4. Students should be able to explain how fossils are used in establishing geologic age of rocks, correlating strata, and reconstructing paleoenvironments.
5. Students should be able to explain how a fossil species is recognized, formally described, and classified into higher taxonomic categories.
6. Students should be able to describe the sources of variation in morphology of a species.
7. Students should be able to explain the theory of evolution and how the fossil record supports it.

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

I have class exercises that address these topics.
Some of them are graded as an assessment. I do not give exams.

Skills Goals

Improving technical writing
Experience in oral presentation

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

1. Students write two library research papers and three field project reports following a format that I provide. The instructions are very specific for earlier assignments but are more general in the later assignments. In each, they are given a specific problem to solve.
Students do two oral presentations using Powerpoint, and receive feedback on their presentations.


Two term papers
Three field trip reports
Shorter assignments related to reading from the textbook or lab exercise.


Course Syllabus (Microsoft Word 42kB May15 09)

Course schedule (Microsoft Word 38kB May15 09)

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