Invertebrate Paleontology and Paleoecology

H. Allen Curran

Smith College
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


A study of the major groups of fossil invertebrates including their phylogenetic relationships, paleoecology, and importance for geologic-biostratigraphic problem-solving. Special topics include speciation, functional adaptations, paleoenvironments, consideration of the earliest forms of life, and the record of extinctions. Weekend field trip to New York State.

Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is an intermediate-level course for geology and biology majors and others with some geo or bio background with the pre-requisite of at least one introductory geology course. The course has three class meetings and one required three-hour laboratory per week; a weekend field trip is also required.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to:
- evaluate invertebrate fossils for taxonomic group identification and possible age.
- analyze and interpret fossil faunas for form and function and paleoenvironmental setting.
- compile and synthesize paleontologic data
- formulate paleontologic research questions
- evaluate articles on "big picture" paleontologic topics

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

These goals are achieved through a structured but flexible mix of classroom presentations, discussions, and activities; laboratory exercises including processing and detailed examination of fossil materials, and field trip exercises. Assessment is achieved through several graded activities, mid-term and final exams, two lab exams, and a substantial graded specimen-based project.

Skills Goals

Improve student skills in:
- writing and oral communication
- critically reading the geologic literature
- critical analysis of web sites
- compiling and processing paleontologic data
- working in groups
- developing field skills in stratigraphy, recognition of fossils in a field context, and interpretation of field observations.

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

Specifically, the graded project report addresses student writing and skills of processing paleontologic data and its interpretation. Mini-oral reports develop student presentation ability, and field trip activities and lab work contribute greatly to development of an overall geologic skills inventory.

Attitudinal Goals

My hope is certainly that this course expands significantly each and every students knowledge of the vast history of life on planet Earth and its past environments, with the goal of developing a more holistic view of life and the world.

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

I'm not able to assess this in any direct way, but the above is an underlying theme throughout the course.


I think already described above.