Paleontology in the "Real World": Using recent Paleontological Literature to Engage High School Students and Encourage STEM Based Learning.

Friday 2:30pm-2:50pm Northrop Hall: 116
Teaching Demonstration Part of Friday Session A


Gina Roberti, Mount St. Helens Institute


Participants will learn to read a complex graph based on primary data published in 2012 (Jardine et al.). This process will involve first a Powerpoint presentation providing background about the study (sample of fossil teeth, etc.) lasting 15 minutes. The Powerpoint concludes with an interactive section to help students interpret the graph. Students will complete a worksheet to demonstrate understanding. Participants will then be provided a set of data/evidence (including the graph from the first part of the lesson), and are asked to reconstruct an interpretive timeline based on the data/evidence provided. Data will be provided in the form of graphs, pie charts, and other figures.

Lesson plan materials can be accessed through the National Park Service webpage here:


A lesson titled,"Fossil Teeth: A Record of Climate and Evolutionary Change in the Fossil Record" is presented as a model to illustrate how lesson plans for high school students can be developed from primary-source data. The project was developed at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument (HAFO) as an educational resource made publicly accessible to K-12 teachers through the educational outreach division of the National Park Service. The final product is a set of PDFs easily downloadable of student worksheets, assessments, and PowerPoint presentations (including slide notes). It is intended for high school students in Introductory, Honors and/or Advanced Placement Biology in grades 9-12, but can be modified for use in introductory college courses. It was recently published on the National Park Service education page ("For Teachers") in the spring of 2017.

At this conference, I hope this lesson will serve as a model of how primary data can be modified for a high school audience. Oftentimes language (jargon) and presentation are barriers to student understanding. By modifying these factors, educators can make accessible primary source data for students to analyze independently.


Data for this project was derived from a publication in 2012 (Jardine et al., "Grit Not Grass: Concordant Patterns of Early Origin of Hypsodonty in Great Plains Ungulates and Glires") and modified to match high-school student learning levels. In the lesson, students examine changes in tooth morphology in the fossil record of herbivorous mammals in North America. Through graphical analysis and critical reading, students infer factors which cause evolutionary adaptations and link biological adaptation to global climate change and localized habitat change.

This project has valuable applications for increasing scientific literacy and awareness of contemporary scientific practices in high-school and introductory college-level students, by allowing students to work with 'real-world' data.

Why It Works

- Emphasis on qualitative skills and primary source material. Students learn to interpret primary source evidence modified directly from the original primary-source literature.

- Lesson activities follow the model for inquiry-based learning. Through graphical analysis and critical reading, students are asked to draw inferences based on the evidence provided. Activities are designed to inspire student creativity and analysis.

- Curriculum standards align with the Disciplinary Core Ideas from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and guidelines for reading and writing from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

- The lesson plan includes a pre-lesson which teaches about tooth morphology and differentiation between species types, as well as extended resources for teachers (including assessments, supporting documents).

Presentation Media

PowerPoint Presentation (Acrobat (PDF) 4.3MB Jul21 17)

Presentation Media