Invertrbrate Paleontology

Steve Leslie

James Madison University
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is an upper-division elective paleontology course with prerequisites of Physical Geology and Historical Geology. The course has a required laboratory and a required two-day field trip

Course Goals:

In this course students are introduced to the vast array of information that may be gleaned through the study of fossil organisms. During lectures we discuss the methods used to interpret the fossil record, and cover topics such as ontogeny, speciation, phylogeny and systematics, functional anatomy, biogeography, biostratigraphy, paleoecology, and macroevolution. The laboratories focus on paleobiological principles that can be demonstrated by the major groups of invertebrates that are common in the geologic record. The primary goals of this class are to develop an understanding of the Earth's inhabitants through geologic time, to discuss how and where these organisms lived, how they interacted, and the relationships among these taxa. This information is the foundation upon which we can ask pertinent questions about the origin of life, as well as questions about the biotic response to climate and sea-level fluctuation though time, which is the essence of global change.

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

The course is both lecture and lab. In lecture we discuss principles of paleontology and paleobiology. Labs are split between fossil identification/interpretation and projects in taphonomy and working on materials collected on field trips. The class is highly interactive, and with only 16-20 students I generally assess how students are doing by having them show me and explain to me what they are doing in lab, I have them show me drafts of projects (sometimes for credit), and I have weekly paleoliteracy quizzes to be sure that students are keeping up with the jargon that they need.

Skills Goals

Observation and description as opposed to "looking"
student writing

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

Labs and quizzes are completed weekly to be sure that students are "keeping up." Drafts of projects are examined and suggestions for improvements made.

Attitudinal Goals

Increasing students understanding of how we know what we know about the history of life on Earth, and how that, in turn tells us about Earth's history and is useful in understanding the modern world and models of what the Earth may be like in the future.

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

Within the context of each exercise/lab/lecture I discuss with the students "Who cares?" and "Why?". I find that this places into context that, for example, microfossil distribution patters and modern microrganism distribution patters really doe tell us about climate change.


Through exams, quizzes, projects, and labs.


Paleobiology (HTML File 21kB May25 09)