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Lesson summary for:
Discovering mass extinctions in the fossil record


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This activity (suitable for distance learning) is designed to introduce students to the nature and process of science through the discovery of mass extinctions in the fossil record. Students will explore the fossil record of brachiopods and bivalves using the Paleobiological Database, identify patterns in their data, and generate and evaluate hypotheses. They will also document this process using the Understanding Science flowchart. Clicking the link above will download the Word file for this lesson.

UC Museum of Paleontology

Grade level:

2 hours

Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.

  • Life forms of the past were in some ways very different from living forms of today, but in other ways very similar.

  • Mass extinctions occur.

  • Rates of extinction vary.

  • Extinction can result from environmental change.

  • The fossil record provides evidence for evolution.

  • The fossil record documents the biodiversity of the past.

  • The fossil record documents patterns of extinction and the appearance of new forms.

  • Scientists can test ideas about events and processes long past, very distant, and not directly observable.

  • The real process of science is complex, iterative, and can take many different paths.

  • Scientists use fossils (including sequences of fossils showing gradual change over time) to learn about past life.

Teacher background:

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