GS 150: Dinosaur Extinction and Other Controversies

Jeffrey Wilson

University of Michigan
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


This course has the general goal of providing an introduction to scientific reasoning – how our hypotheses about the natural world are formed, accepted, modified, and rejected – using examples from the history of geology and paleontology: the Nature of fossils, Deep time, Age of the Earth, Continental Drift, History of Life, Evolution, and Extinction.

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Course Context:

This class is a "First Year Seminar" (FYS). Only first-year students can register for FYS, and these classes aim to give students a small class experience and to introduce them to the demands of intellectual inquiry. The classes are part lecture, part discussion, and encourage students to develop their communication and interactive skills.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to explain what science is and to differentiate it from other disciplines/pursuits (e.g., religion, philosophy).
Students should be able to formulate and critique scientific hypotheses.

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

Students write a series of short papers related to the geological controversy we are talking about (e.g., plate tectonics). I evaluate the content of their argument a part of their paper grade; the writing itself is graded separately.

Skills Goals

design, lead, and participate in a discussion group
effective communication in writing

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

I evaluate writing assignments (3 pp) every 4 weeks, as well as performance in discussion groups every week.

Attitudinal Goals

increasing students' awareness of the impact of geology in their every day lives
bringing to students' attention the value of healthy debate and discussion

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

I try to use examples (often policy related) from current events that are related to the topic of interest. I also try to keep the debate non-personal; ad hominem comments are strongly discouraged.


A big part of my assessment of student learning comes from me watching them interact in discussion groups and assessing how they use information that we have learned in class during those discussions.


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