Who Knew There is a National Fossil Day™?
I certainly didn’t! When I found out, I figured it would be a great time to have my students learn about fossils. National Fossil Day™ takes place annually on the Wednesday of the second full week in October. The idea is to get paleontologists, teachers, and students engaged in fossil-related events. Check out the National Fossil Day™ website. There is a free downloadable Prehistoric Life coloring book complete with definitions of the different time periods and types of fossils, an art contest, and even a booklet for students wishing to become Jr. Paleontologists.
What is a Fossil and What is a Paleontologist?
These are questions that students have. Fossils are evidence of past life. When an animal or plant dies, the soft parts rot and leave a skeleton. Over time, these remains are buried and begin to dissolve. This makes a mold that is filled with minerals. The minerals form a cast, which looks like the remains of the organism. Sometimes, footprints, burrows, and eggs get fossilized too.
Young students often think a paleontologist is a person that studies dinosaurs. This is true, However, paleontologists study so much more! Paleontologists study the history of all life on Earth. They use fossils of animals, plants, fungus, bacterial, and even one-celled organisms to help them.
Start with Fossil Samples
At the beginning of a unit on fossils, pass out a real sample to each small group of students. I found that if you ask around other teachers will let you borrow theirs if you don’t have any. High school earth science teachers usually have a collection. If you don’t want to ask anyone, Amazon sells a “genuine collection”. If you can’t use real samples, get good, quality photos to pass out. You can get free photos from a site like Pixabay.
Also, give students magnifying glasses. Ask each group of students to write down what they see, what they think, and what they wonder. Then, share out as a group. This should give you a good starting point as students start their investigations.
There are many ways to investigate fossils. Some teachers might want to study fossils in general, while others might like to study fossils in their own state. In either case, there are things that students need to be able to do. Organizing data into tables, charts, or graphs, is one of the objectives. For example; put fossils into groups based on whether they show evidence of animals or plants. Fossils can be arranged by age. Students should note that fossils are found in different rock layers as shown in this diagram. Studying these concepts, students learn that the Earth and organisms living on it have changed over time.
Moreover, students need to think about the relationship of the fossilts and environment (both past and present). They should be able to describe how the landscape has changed over time using evidence.
Other Resources to Get Your Students Flipping Over Fossils
Here is a video for students.
We have a couple of resources in our Teachers Pay Teachers shop that can also help.
Whether you decide to have your students become Jr. Paleontologists, use our resources, or create your own lessons, just use their innate sense of wonder to get them flipping about fossils!
And remember, its all science!