Slicing Fossils

Tom Hickson, University of St. Thomas, and Ilyse Resnick, Temple University
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In this exercise, students examine images of brachiopods, mollusks, and coquinas. They identify, visualize, and sketch slices through a variety of shelly organisms, then apply what they've learned to identify fossils in several samples of coquina.

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Learning Goals

After successfully completing this exercise, students will be able to sketch slices through a few invertebrate fossils at a variety of angles, and will be able to recognize randomly oriented slices through these same fossils. They will be able to recognize a variety of fossils from fragments in fossiliferous rock samples.

Context for Use

This exercise is designed to help students make the leap from being able to recognize whole fossils to being able to recognize fossils from random 2D slices through them.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students work through a series of exercises, from multiple choice questions about slices through individual fossils to identifying fossils in samples of coquina.

Sliced fossils exercise (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 8.6MB May19 15)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This exercise was developed as part of a set of exercises to support 3D visualization skills. These exercises had an intended order. Instructors can pick and choose the exercises, but the order we intended was as follows:

  1. Introduction to 3D sketching
  2. Sketching block diagrams
  3. Sketching 3D Ripples and Dunes
  4. Slicing cylinders
  5. Slicing channels
  6. Slicing fruit
  7. Slicing rocks
  8. Slicing fossils


I look over student answers to the questions to see how well they are able to identify the fossils on the final page of the exercise.

References and Resources

Using Gesture to Support Spatial Thinking highlights the value of gesture in communicating spatial information. It consists of two short exercises, and can be used in preparation for any other exercise in which students will be asked to use gesture to communicate spatial information.