Fossils: A Teaching Tool that Promotes Enthusiastic Learning

by Claudia Mann

How can you use fossils as a teaching tool? In my classrooms over the years, fossils have never failed to spark fun and enthusiasm for learning about earth sciences. I have seen students, otherwise disengaged in activities of learning, become totally captivated with the process of uncovering the fossil hiding beneath the surface of soft rock. Fossils connect students to the history of our planet. They can simultaneously imagine the situation of ancient life, while examining current habitats and species that could become the fossils of the future. Perhaps you are looking to bring this sort of enthusiasm to your classroom or your children at home.

Fossils inspire all sorts of questions. Consider these possibilities :

How old is this? (Leading to the study of the Earth's history.)

What kind of animal was this? (Leading to zoology and species classification.)

Where did it live? (Leading to habitats past and present, including botany.)

How did it live? (Leading to a study of vital functions--more zoology.)

How did it form? (Back to a study of geology and earth science.)

The list seems endless. Fossils are not only attention-getters; they are also incredibly versatile as a teaching tool. Fossils make a great theme for integrated curriculum studies. If you get creative, there are all types of stories to be written: factual, imaginative, and even poetry. Imaginations run wild when you hold the fossil of a long-extinct species in your hand. You could write tales of life on the ancient sea floor, or how that particular animal met its demise and became the fossil you are holding today. You could create an entire language arts curriculum around it! If it's math you'd like to kick into gear, working with the geologic time periods offers opportunities for scientific notation, exponents, scale (when placing them on a timeline), and comparisons between lifespan lengths. Then there are the geometric qualities of the shells and chitinous exoskeletons. You could study fractals or tessellations, just to name a couple possibilities. The biology-related curriculum is obvious. Classification, developmental changes and adaptation to environment, vital functions, and predator-prey relationships are just a few of the possibilities for further in-depth study.

Likewise, geology takes on a new meaning when seen through the fossils' eyes. The stone containing the fossil may have once been an ocean floor, a swampy bog, or a boulder-filled riverbed. As students look at the quality of the matrix that contains their fossil, they are inspired to think about the material and situation that created it. It seems that using fossils as a teaching tool a creative teacher, parent, or student would find an endless promise of topics to study, limited only by the personal interest and creativity of the student. There is truly nothing like a fossil to inspire! Your students will show you the way...and love you for letting them reach deep into their creativity to do it!

About the author: Claudia Mann is a teacher, and a contributor to where you will find information that will help you pump up the enthusiasm in your classroom or home school setting. Go to there now for free fossil lesson plans, activities, and information on fossils and geologic time.





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