Lesson Plan

A Peek into the Past: The Fossil Record

#STEMChallenge What are fossils, how do they form and what can they tell us about Earth's history?
Donna M.
Classroom teacher
Vista Visions Academy
Vista, CA
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My Grades 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
My Subjects Science, Health & Wellness

Students will be able to:

1. Define fossil, petrification, resin, and extinct. 
2. List the four ways that fossils are formed and explain how each is formed. 
3. Explain the characteristics and differentiate the four types of fossils. 
4. Explain the catastrophism and uniformitarianism views. 
5. Differentiate the catastrophism and uniformitarianism views.

All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Engage: Brainstorm What is a fossil? What is a living fossil?

Students brainstorm their definition of a fossil. This definition may include words and diagrams. During the course of the unit, this definition will form the basis of a concept map which explains catastrophism and uniformitarianism.

Engage students by showing a video about fossils, a paleontologist working in the field or even letting students explore a fossil collection if one is available. One video that sparks a discussion about, "What is a fossil?" is the TedEd video, The coelacanth: A living fossil of a fish  http://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-coelacanth-a-living-fossil-of-a-fish-erin-...

Discuss with students:

Why was the coelacanth once considered extinct?

What happened to change speoples' ideas about the coelacanth?

The coelancanth has been referred to as an "evolutionary bridge." Why is the coelacanth important to our knowledge of genetics and evolution?

Why is it sometimes called a link between aquatic and land vertabrates?

Explain why it is often referred to as a "living fossil"?


2 Explore: Use a flipped classroom model with Engrade

Engrade is a class gradebook that can be used as a Learning Management System, especially with the paid account. One feature is a wiki in which teachers can embed content to allow for blended/flipped instruction. This series of lessons utilizes a publically posted wiki that has flashcards and videos linked, as well as well as extension videos about finding a frozen baby mammoth and and an ancient human.

Go to: Engrade › Wikis › General Science Class Website › Module 7 - The Fossil Record

Students can use the flashcards embedded on the site, at any time to review vocabulary words and concepts.

On this wiki the links which allow students to explore the concepts and meet the objectives for this unit, include:

  • Pompeii Plaster Casts: How and Why they Were Formed - a concise introduction to molds and casts related not to fossils, but the deceased citizens of Pompeii. There are links on the page to pictures of the casts, some which might be a little disturbing. However, only one (at a distance) is on the information page. 
  • Fossil Diving in South Carolinas May River- broadband required
  • Fossil Hunting in Nashville - printable brochure for Nashville, TN residents
  • Fossils for Kids Website - this is a fantastic website, lots of great pictures and information with special information for California residents. 
  • Insects in Amber from Fossil Kids website
  • Types of Fossils - a nice PDF slide show to review the types of fossils we are learning.
  • Petrified Forest National Park - fantastic close up photos of petrified wood.
  • The Official Website for The Petrified Forest National Park
  • Carbon 101 - a PDF brochure that shows how fossil fuels are formed and how we extract them.
  • How are Fossil Fuels formed? from the U.S. Dept. of Energy. The concise version. Do you know why they are called fossil fuels? Do you know the difference in how coal, natural gas and petroleum are made? Take 2 minutes and read this (and see the PDF chart above it).

3 Explain: Discuss and formatively assess with Engrade

Students take a quiz in Engrade about the content they have explored. The quiz consists of basic knowledge questions such as, How are fossils formed? and What kind of environment are fossils likely to be found in?

Students clarify their ideas by participating in a class discussion, either in class or using the Engrade discussion board around comprehension/application questions such as, Why do we call petroleum products, such as oil and gas, fossil fuels? and Could the trees in (name a local park or forest) ever become petrified? Explain.

4 Elaborate: Concept Mapping

Students use a concept mapping tool, such as bubbl.us or the Drawing Tool on Google Drive to create a concept map explaining the catastrophism and uniformitarianism theories. Students may work collaboratively on both of these concept mapping programs, so students may work in partners or independently.

Maps should include

  • definition of fossil 
  • characteristics of the four types of fossils 
  • the 4 ways fossils are formed
  • where fossils are formed
  • explanation of catastrophism and uniformitarianism theories

This can be graded and the grades entered into the Engrade grading program.

5 Evaluate: Students create digital presentations showing learning

Free, Paid
Free, Free to Try, Paid
Google Drive
Free, Paid

Students create a presentation of their choice illustrating the difference between the catastrophic and uniformitarianism views, using concepts and vocabulary from this unit. The presentation could be an animation (Domo Animate or Scratch), a presentation (Google Drive Presentation or Prezi) or a video (Animoto). The presentation is scored on a rubric for content and presentation skills.

This can be graded and the grades entered into the Engrade grading program.

6 Extend: Think like a Scientist!

Fossil Forensics
5.99 per account

For students who finish early or want to engage further, this inexpensive program allows students to "think like a scientist," as they examine fossil evidence.