Academic journal article Science and Children

Fossil Explorers: Third-Grade Students Examine Ancient Organisms in Modern Times

Academic journal article Science and Children

Fossil Explorers: Third-Grade Students Examine Ancient Organisms in Modern Times

Article excerpt

Many young learners are fascinated with fossils, particularly charismatic forms such as dinosaurs and giant sharks. Fossils provide tangible, objective evidence of life that lived millions of years ago. They also provide a timescale of evolution not typically appreciated by young learners. Fossils and the science of paleontology can, therefore, serve as a gateway for learning and engagement about a diversity of topics and concepts, as well as the processes of science. According to A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC 2012), students should be provided with opportunities to experience how science is actually done, thereby developing relevant skills for careers in science. Integrating museum collections in the elementary science classroom has the potential to stimulate curiosity in young learners about ancient environments while attracting students to the field of paleontology and associated sciences.

Natural history museum collections present an excellent resource for engaging students in the content and practices of science (Cook et al. 2014). The development of loan materials by museums for use in the science classroom is becoming increasingly mainstream. Many teachers depend on natural history learning kits to provide hands-on, authentic, and artifact-based learning environments for their students. This article describes a third-grade lesson that uses museum collections to help students understand the potential range of diversity represented by the fossil record while facilitating a more relaxed and intimate experience with the artifacts. By manipulating and exploring the variety of fossils, students learned about different types of fossils and used them to make some inferences about ancient environments. It was our hope that exposing elementary school learners early to fossils and paleontology would allow them to gain an appreciation of, and increase interest in, paleontology as well as science in general.

Implementing the Lesson

The lesson took place during one 45-minute session with goals to (1) provide an understanding of what fossils are and why they are important; (2) provide students with an opportunity to examine and identify various fossils based on their prior knowledge and experiences; and (3) encourage students to make inferences regarding ancient environments based on their observations. The materials used in this lesson included:

* Fossil kits on loan from Florida Museum of Natural History containing 10 different fossils - one kit per group of four students (Figure 1). Fossils can be obtained from sources such as local museums of natural history, fossils clubs, or national organizations such as the FOSSIL project (see Internet Resources). If actual fossils are difficult to acquire, a series of flashcards with different fossil images could be created to replicate the activity.

* Magnifying glasses (one per student)

* Student data sheets (one per group; see Figure 2)

* Summative evaluation sheet (one per student; see Figure 3, p. 64)

* Computer and projector for PowerPoint slides

* Trade books, as outlined in the resource section. We suggest these be used either prior to the lesson to activate prior knowledge or as an extension after the lesson to elaborate on the content learned during the activity.

This lesson was implemented using the 5E instructional model outlined below.

Engage (15 minutes)

We began the session by using interactive PowerPoint slides to engage students in a discussion about what fossils are, how they form, the process of finding and identifying them, why they are important, and the difference between a paleontologist and archaeologist (see NSTA Connection). The purpose of this activity was to help us gauge students' prior knowledge of fossils and paleontology. We asked students "What is a fossil?" The responses varied: "Something that's turned into rock." "Dinosaur bones. …

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