This large-scale interdisciplinary project involving the entire school community explores many aspects of modern paleontology. The halls of the school represent the layers of geologic strata. "Fossils" are taped to the walls throughout the school. Students search for, collect , and catalog the specimens. Students then set up a display representing the geologic story told by their research. Over the course of this unit the topics covered include, but are not limited to, Geologic Time, display preparation, fossil collecting, organizational skills, Federal, State, and Local law, and research and writing skills. This activity for middle school students requires a considerable amount of preparation, but has great rewards.
The teacher must find, copy, or draw the "fossils". Heavy paper or laminated card stock is recommended and will last for several years. A one-to-one scale is encouraged. The instructor then determines the location of the "fossils". The halls and other common areas of the school represent public property. In order to collect fossils from these properties a permit from the school office must be obtained. The other classrooms represent private land which belongs to the teachers. Make arrangements with them about their duties. Have some teachers refuse to allow students to take fossils, have others let them be taken for free, and others charge what they want. Pick a time during a specific day that the students can go out and collect. Not only are they to collect the fossils but also any other data they may find. At the project's conclusion, students assemble their data, interpret their findings, and create "museum" displays of their discoveries.
Cooperation is needed on the staff level, as administration, teachers, custodial staff and other students are all involved in this activity.
I photocopied or drew about 70 different fossils representing all the different geologic ages. Each was reproduced on a scale of one-to-one. (The dinos were quite large!) Most of the images came from books in my collection. I have included a list of books below. Many images were found on the web. I have included some links to these sites below. In order to make the larger images life-size I would either increase the size on the photocopier or print them onto overhead film and project the image onto large paper I got from the art teacher. These images were then traced onto the paper at their true size. Some students came to my classroom during their lunch period to help out.
The instructor then has to determine where to put them. A multi-level school is best, as each floor can represent different geologic strata, but if your school is only one level, then you can represent folded or tilted deposition with the placement of your fossils. The school I did this activity in is three stories high, and has an auditorium on the ground level. I determined that the auditorium represented an early Archean igneous intrusion underlying the strata. The next floor represented the Paleozoic, the next the Mesozoic, and the third floor represented the Cenozoic. At the very top of the wall on the third floor I placed artifacts representing the arrival of man. The halls and other common areas of the school represent public property owned by some government agency. In order to collect fossils from these properties a permit from the proper agency must be obtained. This is where the office staff is helpful. Supply them with an official permit (mine is included below) and have them issue them to the students that request one. Get them donuts or other appropriate gifts after to thank them for their assistance.
I did this activity with my sixth grade classes, and had
five or six trustworthy eighth-grade girls help out. They represented law
enforcement officers with badges who checked to make sure that all students
removing fossils from the public properties had the right permits. If they did
not, the girls were to give them fines and take away the fossils.
(I figured girls would be less prone to aggressive behavior than boys in the same role.)
The other classrooms represent private land which belongs to the teachers who teach in those rooms. Make arrangements with them about their duties. Have some teachers refuse to allow students to take fossils, have others let them be taken for free, and others can charge what they want. One teacher told the students in advance that her fee was one flower each for every fossil removed. Another had the students clean the blackboard, desks, erasers, etc. Let the teachers have fun picking out their fees.
The fossils were put up about one week in advance of the collection date. This allowed the students to see where they were and to make arrangement to collect them. Most were placed in noticeable locations, while a few were hidden behind posters, doors or other objects. Expect some to be removed by students in other grades. This represents fossils lost to erosion or commercial collectors. (This can lead into a related lesson - The "Sue" case for example.)
Pick a time during a specific day that the students can go out and collect. Mine was an all school study hall we have regularly on Tuesdays. Not only are they to collect the fossils but also any other data they may find. This includes:
Together, all the information tells a story about the history of the earth in the made up area. I tried to represent the many varied events that really did occur in New Jersey, including rising and falling sea levels, advancing and retreating glaciers, various life forms (aquatic and terrestrial), and the occupation of native Americans.
My students created an exhibit about the materials they learned. They decided to call their museum the "Institute of Geologic Research", and set up a display showing the types of fossils, rock formations, and events which occurred over time. They even created business cards for the "employees."
When asked what was most enjoyable about the whole project, the students mentioned: finding the fossils, getting out of study hall, getting museum employee cards, having the Principal sign their digging permits, trying to reach the high fossils, and naming the new species found after friends. (Some fossils were variations on real fossils that had features unknown to modern science, or were drawn poorly. The students can give these fossils scientific names as their discoverer. Scientific nomenclature was covered in a previous activity, "The Dinosaur Name-Game".)
One History teacher in the school had his students use their experiences in this activity as a starting point to one of his units, and two English teachers had the students write a paper about the activity.
I truly enjoyed this activity, and I feel that any teacher crazy enough to put that much work into it will enjoy it just as much. If you like some parts of it please feel free to go with it. If you have something to add to it, e-mail me so that I too can add it as well.
The following letter was distributed to the classroom teachers prior to the start of the project. It was intended to solicit their assistance.
The following form was created by a lawyer friend of mine to be distributed by the main office to students who apply for digging rights to "public" properties. I had them printed on school stationary so the address and seal were prominent.
10 SCHOOL PLACE
MY TOWN, NEW JERSEY 01101
Permission Form C-23: Removal of Antiquities from Property
This form allows the bearer or organization listed below to remove antiquities (fossils, artifacts, minerals, or other natural resources) from the public grounds of the school property according to the Practices and Standards Act of September, 1972. (PS 4223-7209.17) In accordance with the aforementioned act, the bearer is also responsible for the maintenance of the grounds for future public and private use as outlined in the Grounds Use Act of March, 1977. (GU 67-7703.04)
Authorized Signature: ______________________________________________________
Varies depending on grade level and how involved in this activity your class will become. I imagine a rubric would be an effective way of measuring the effectiveness of the activity, based on involvement of each student to their assigned tasks. Follow-up with a written or oral test is possible. Students can also journal thier recollections.
I'll leave that up to you. Please send me your ideas. Credit will be given for any follow-up lessons posted at this site!
NJESTA Board member, webmaster, former earth science teacher and museum educator, Marc Rogoff is the
Environmental Education Specialist with the New Jersey Department of
Environmental Protection (DEP). His duties include creation and maintenance of the
SEEDS website and the
Earth Day-New Jersey website, assisting with
educational programming within the various divisions of the DEP including the
New Jersey Geological Survey, the
Bureau of Recycling and Planning, the
Division of Parks and Forestry and the
Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Marc served as a member of the Executive Board of NJSTA and was the '05/'06
President of the Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education (ANJEE).