The Great Fossil Find
Authors/Adaptors: Adapted by Steve Randak and Michael Kimmel
Students are taken on an imaginary fossil hunt. Following a script read by the teacher, students "find" (remove from envelope) paper "fossils" of some unknown creature, only a few at a time. Each time, they try to reconstruct the creature, and each time their interpretation may change as new pieces are "found".
Grade Span: 512
* The Fossil Sheet: The original version of this page can be found in the Laboratory Manual for Scott, Foresman's text Biology (by Irwin L. Slesnick), 1985, page 75 (ISBN 0-673-22303-6).
Time: One class period
Grouping: 3-4 per group
The "fossils" are based on the real fossil bones of Scaphognathus crassirostris, a ptersosaur ("flying reptile") that lived in the late Jurassic (around 150 mya) in the vicinity of present day Germany. Adults had a wingspan of about one meter.
Do a web search for Scaphognathus and ptersosaurs. For elements of the nature of science that this lesson illustrates, go to the Nature of Science: General Background Information for the teacher. This will help you to dispel some of the common popular myths about science.
This lesson provides an excellent biological alternative (or additional) example of the nature of science, in contrast to many other lessons for doing this, which are taken from the physical sciences. For this reason, you might want to include this in your introduction to the nature of science early in your course.
The lesson would also provide an engaging (and novel) introduction to fossil studies or anatomy. If you have students compare samples of hominid skulls, this lesson would be a useful preliminary experience, where you can discuss examples of structure and function suggested by the bones and teeth.
Build anticipation by announcing that the class will be going on a big fossil dig the next day. Be dramatic! The next day, if possible, come dressed in what you have that comes closest to what you might wear going to a dusty, hot, fossil dig, e.g., a grungy safari hat, sunglasses, geological hammer, camera, etc. When you do the lesson, be as dramatic as you can about your shared adventure. Be sure to snap some pictures of students working on fossils during the lesson.
The Great Fossil Find Worksheet is suitable for 6-12th grade students. For younger students, plan to engage in some follow-up discussion, e.g., "What do you think it was?" And, "How can you tell?"
Be sure to remind students to return all fossils back into the envelopes when they finish.
Vocabulary: fossil, skeleton, paleontologist, hypothesis
From The Great Fossil Find on the ENSI website.
The S. crassirostrus Fossil Sheet used here is adapted from the Laboratory Manual for Scott, Foresman's text Biology (by Irwin L. Slesnick), 1985, page 75 (ISBN 0-673-22303-6).