Leigh Fall,
SUNY College at Oneonta


The course focuses on concepts of interest to paleontologists, biologists, and geologists. The course meets three days a week for lecture and one day for lab. Major invertebrate groups are introduced once a week. Lab activities focus on lecture concepts (e.g., taphonomy, mass extinctions) and emphasize problem solving. A field project emphasizes the use of fossils for geologic interpretations.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Students enroll in one course that includes both lecture and lab. The lecture and the lab are both taught by the professor.

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is a 300-level course required for geology majors. The course is also open to biology majors. For geology majors, the prerequisite for the course is introduction to geology and historical geology. For biology majors, the prerequisite is general biology II. The course is offered every spring. Typically, geology majors compose the majority of the class and are at different experience levels within the curriculum.

Course Content:

The course covers taphonomy, evolution (including cladistics), mass extinctions, origin of metazoans, diversity, trace fossils, and paleoecology. Students are introduced to the major invertebrate phyla and classes every Friday, but are required to learn the groups outside of class. Labs focus on collecting and analyzing fossil data to address a research question or hypothesis related to a major concept covered in lecture. There is a field project that requires students to draft a stratigraphic column and collect fossil data to interpret a depositional history.

Course Goals:

  1. Students should be able to identify common fossil invertebrates for analysis and evaluation in solving geologic problems.
  2. Students should be able to evaluate the scientific literature and communicate the information effectively through appropriate oral, visual, and written presentation.
  3. Students should be able to work collaboratively.

Course Features:

  1. This course has several laboratory activities that require students to collect and share data. Most of these activities use the data to test a hypothesis or answer a question.
  2. Students learn fossil groups through drawings of a study set of fossils and weekly quizzes.
  3. This course has a field trip where students collect data on the sedimentary rocks and fossils (body and trace) to interpret depositional environments. Students work collectively but write up individual reports.
  4. Students critically evaluate, synthesize, and communicate content from the scientific literature.

Course Philosophy:

Most students in the course are not interested in becoming paleontologists, and therefore, the course is designed to help students understand how paleontology can help geologists solve different types of problems.


  1. Laboratory activities
  2. Two to three lecture exams
  3. Two fossil practical exams
  4. Field project (includes stratigraphic column, analysis of fossil data, and a written report)
  5. Written summary and/or presentation on a scientific paper


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 390kB May29 14)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Introduction to Paleobiology and the Fossil Record by Michael J. Benton and David A. T. Harper
The textbook is current, uses good examples to elucidate concepts, and provides a web resource for the instructor. Additionally, the book includes chapters on the major animal groups, trace fossils, and plants.