Fantastic Prehistoric Beasts and Where/When to Find Them

Revising authors: Marie Farson, Principia College; Sharon Gilberg, St. Petersburg College

Original authors:David Goldsmith, Westminster College; Kaydee West, University of Alabama; Rowan Martindale, University of Texas at Austin; Marie Farson, Principia College; Michelle Harris, Centralia College; Sharon Gilberg, St. Petersburg College


Average inquiry level: Guided inquiry

This inquiry-based lab explores the fossil record by having students use various characteristics of fossils to devise a classification scheme and eventually apply the geologic time scale and geographic locations of the fossils. In Part 1, students are given household or classroom-based items to sort into groups for developing their own classification scheme. Part 2 repeats a similar path to a classification scheme of known fossils. In Part 3, the students take their knowledge of classifications schemes to infer the geologic time period and geographic extent of some fantastic prehistoric beasts of the fossil record.

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Introductory Level course such as Life Through Time/Earth History

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

A brief introduction to taxonomy, geologic time periods, and paleontology would be helpful.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is most likely to be helpful 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through an introductory Earth History or Paleontology course. Concepts of geologic time, stratigraphy, fossilization etc would be covered first.

In an Earth Science class it is most likely to be helpful in the "geologic time" chapter" about 1/3 of the way through the course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Learning Objectives:
● Students will sort and group a given set of objects to formulate a classification scheme.
● Students will discuss and synthesize how problems and priorities can affect classification schemes.
● Students will sort and group fossils to formulate a classification scheme.
● Students will discuss and synthesize how problems and priorities can affect the grouping of fossils (i.e., age, biology, paleoenvironment).

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Synthesis of a system for classification in parts 1 and 2. Critical evaluation of classification systems in parts 1 and 2. Analysis of data in Part 3.

Other skills goals for this activity

Familiarity with the PBDB website. Peer evaluation. Group work. oral presentation for F2F courses and written presentation for online courses.

Description and Teaching Materials

Part 1. The students work with a set of classroom/household objects provided by the instructor(F2F) or found in their own home (online). They develop a classification system for these objects segregate the objects into subgroups. Their classmates try to determine what classification parameters were used. Students report out their observations and classification schemes in a round robin style. A student handout is provided for students to record their observations and classification schemes.
Part 2. Students repeat this exercise with a set of fossils. The fossil set is provided via a handout with links for the students to research more information about the fossil. Students record their work on the same student handout.
Part 3. Students learn to use the PBDB https:\\navigator to research the time periods and geographic extent of "fantastic beasts" through geologic time. This portion of the student worksheet is guided inquiry.
An answer key for the student handout is provided, with instructor notes as well. A formatted table for students to record geologic time span of the organisms they are researching is provided separate from the student handout and an answer key for this table is provided as well. 
Finally, The diversity curves for each of the "fantastic beasts" referenced in part 3 is provided here for the instructor to provide to students in case the PBDB is not accessible. 
Note: both Word and PDF files are provided for all of the above materials for maximum accessibility 
Student Handout for Fantastic Beasts and Where_When to Find Them (Acrobat (PDF) 873kB Jul27 21) 
Info Sheet for Fantastic Beasts and Where_When to Find Them (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB Jul27 21) 

Fossil Info Sheet from Digital Virtual Atlas Collection (Acrobat (PDF) 5.4MB Jul27 21) 
Rubric for Assessing Student Work (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 12kB Jul27 21)

Teaching Notes and Tips

See Instructor Notes after Answer Key


See Discussion Board Rubric

References and Resources

Paleontologic Research Institute - background information. Digital atlas of fossils. Field guides. Earth at Home, earth science online collection(digital textbook).

Digital Atlas of Ancient Life - pictures and descriptions of ancient life.

Sketchfab - Website for uploading 3D and AR images for viewing fossils virtually