Introduction to Paleontology

Karen A. Koy

Missouri Western State University
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs


A review of major principles and techniques in paleontology including but not limited to evolutionary relationships and processes, systematics, community analysis, and comparative anatomy of living organisms and fossils. The class will integrate applied learning activities into the lecture. Three hours lecture, application, and discussion.

Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is an upper-division elective course that counts towards the biology and zoology undergraduate majors. It has a 100-level biology or geology prerequisite. This class has a three-hour block which integrates lab activities and discussions into the lecture, and allows for afternoon field trips. There is a required field trip and a semester-long project that culminates in a conference-style presentation.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to use the scientific method to design and carry out an experiment based upon original questions, then analyze and interpret their results within the larger context of previous work.

Students should be able to identify phyla and major animal groups, and interpret their evolutionary relationships based on morphology and life history.

Students should be able to collect data from a fossil deposit, and perform community analysis.

Students should be able to identify and interpret signs of predation, parasitism and competition in marine invertebrate communities.

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

The term project requires the students to come up with an original question based on taphonomic processes, and design and perform an experiment to answer that question. They will be turning in an experimental plan, multiple written updates and their lab notebook to allow me to monitor their progress. They are also responsible for a 20-minute presentation about their project during the last week of class.

Multiple in-class projects, quizzes and exams will be used to assess their understanding of major animal groups and evolutionary relationships.

During a required field trip, students will collect fossil data, then during class time perform a community analysis and interpretation of species interactions. They will turn in a short paper detailing each analysis and its results.

Skills Goals

experimental design
oral communication & public presentation skills
participatory group discussion

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

The semester-long taphonomic project will help them develop and enhance their experimental design skills, by requiring the development of an original hypothesis and way to test it.

The presentation of their results will be a 20-minute powerpoint presentation, which requires them to combine oral and visual communication skills.

Throughout the class we will have breakout groups and other forms of class discussion that everyone will be required to participate in.

Attitudinal Goals

Broadening students understanding of deep time and the power of evolution.

Increasing students knowledge of paleontology beyond "arrowheads and dinosaurs", with a greater appreciation for the advances paleontology has made and all the things it can tell us.

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

Lecture materials and small in-class projects will emphasize the pace of evolution and the relationships between different groups of animals.

Students will preform several small and large activities covering a range of topics in paleontology, including experiments with modern organisms, community analysis, interpretations of inter-species interactions, and paleclimatology.


Student learning will be assessed with weekly quizzes, several exams, lab reports, in-class assignments and the results of discussions.


Introduction to Paleontology syllabus Koy (Microsoft Word 48kB May20 09)