Katherine McCarville

Upper Iowa University
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Dinosaur paleontology incorporates concepts from geology and biology and integrates aspects of chemistry, physics and mathematics to explain and understand these magnificent animals, the environments in which they lived, and the processes that have shaped our dynamic Earth. Students learn how to apply the scientific method in learning about dinosaurs from their fossil remains.

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Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites and does not serve as a prerequisite for other courses. Most of the students take the course to satisfy a general education requirement, but it does attract pre-service elementary teachers as well.

Course Goals:

1. Students will learn to apply scientific reasoning, principles and methodology in this course. To that end, they will learn basic concepts and techniques of scientific investigation and understand how scientific methods are applied in paleontology. They will understand the nature of scientific evidence, especially as it relates to biological evolution.

2. Students will learn the principle of uniformitarianism and how it is used in determining the characteristics of ancient environments, as the primary basis of building their understanding of the basic principles of geology that pertain to the study of fossils.

3. Students will employ techniques such as comparative anatomy and paleo-ecological analysis to understand the paleobiology and evolution of dinosaurs. Students will develop an understanding of the basic principles of paleontology, including the principle of faunal succession.

4. Students will learn how natural selection drives evolution of populations by using a simulation game. This will help them develop a fuller understanding of the basic principles of biology, as they apply to the study of the paleobiology and evolution of dinosaurs.

5. Students will understand significant events in the history of life on Earth, including major extinctions and their causes.

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

I employ hands-on activities and exercises whenever possible to provide students with opportunities to practice scientific data gathering and interpretation. These usually include taking the process full circle, starting from an hypothesis, testing it, and making the determination regarding whether the hypothesis is supported, or must be revised in light of new information.

Skills Goals

Students learned to access and read scientific literature during an assignment to create a poster on a major clade of dinosaurs.

Students learned to critically analyze interpretations of dinosaurs as they are presented in popular literature and media, and test these depictions against scientific evidence.

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

Practice, practice, practice! Many activities, films with quizzes and associated activities. I give students many opportunities to learn the skills and content for the course.

Attitudinal Goals

Students feel that a course titled "Dinosaurs" should not be as challenging as this course. However, they also enjoy the rewards of mastering the skills and content of the course.

Students read and report on a book from a list that I compiled. Many read personal accounts of paleontologists, and find these change their ideas about who paleontologists are and what they do.

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

Practice, practice, practice -- the activities repeat and recombine components, giving students plenty of opportunities to master the skills and content. I use some formative assessments, and a summative assessment with open-ended questions to assess success.


I assess student learning through one midterm exam, a poster assignment, and a final exam.