Teach the Earth > Paleontology > Course Descriptions > Paleontology


Dan Stephen

Utah Valley University
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Focuses on systematics of the major groups of past life represented in the fossil record; includes taxonomy, biogeography, and phylogeny. Explores the utility of fossils in paleoecology, paleoclimatology, and biostratigraphy. Emphasis on the application of fundamental evolutionary principles for understanding diversification, extinction, and morphological trends in the 4 billion year history of life on Earth. Course includes labs and field trips.

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; required for the BS Geology degree, elective for Environmental Management and Earth Science Education degrees. The course has a mandatory two-hour lab (once per week), plus two weekend (two-day) field trips during the semester.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to identify common types of fossils, including at least Phylum and Class.
Students should be able to define the stratigraphic and geographic distribution as well as general environment where the organisms lived.
Students should be able to describe the broad phylogenetic patterns within the clade that includes the fossil group.
Students should be able to analyze a fossil data set and formulate a reasonable hypothesis to explain evolutionary trends.
Students should be able to synthesize fossil data in the interpretation of paleoclimate and paleoecology.
Students should be able to evaluate fossil data in the construction of biostratigraphic zones.

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

Lectures introduce main concepts. Lab exercises give students practice at applying concepts. Assessment is mainly through exams and lab exercises.

Skills Goals

Student writing;
quantitative abilities;
accessing and critically reading the geologic literature.

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

Student writing and quantitative abilities are assessed on exams. Also, students write a review paper summarizing and critically evaluating a recent journal article of their choosing.

Attitudinal Goals

Increase understanding of how science is done;
increase appreciation for the beauty of the natural world;
increase awareness of both the fragility and resilience of life.

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

I hope that my lectures help students achieve the attitudinal goals.
In addition, the review paper that students write helps them understand how science is done.
Field trips are designed, in part, to address attitudinal goals.
I do not directly assess attitudinal goals.


Assessment of student learning is from:
lab exercises, review paper, daily quizzes, and three exams.


course syllabus for Paleontology (Acrobat (PDF) 123kB May19 09)

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