Woodbridge Middle School Students Become Paleontologists During Science Activity

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Provided by PWCS

Woodbridge Middle School seventh graders in Christina Hepp’s life science class learned about the fascinating world of studying real fossils without leaving their classroom. “A field trip through time,” was the title of an activity that had students investigating a cross-section of “rock layers,” which Hepp described as a cliff.

Using paper with drawings and real fossils from a personal collection, Hepp designed sections of rock layers on a table. Armed with clipboards, the students became paleontologists. There were no dirty hands at the end of this activity, but students saw and touched real fossils as they recorded their findings.

The activity aimed to teach students to think like scientists and ask questions about an example of a real-life “fossil puzzle.” Students started by taking “field notes” and sketching what they observed.

Hepp provided some details about the fossils. Students scanned QR codes and discovered that the organisms could only live in specific environments. Claire Smith said, “We learned about the lives of marine organisms and how they fossilized.”

Using the information they collected, students wrote a summary of what they found at the “paleontological site.” In their writing, students demonstrated an understanding of a primary principle of stratigraphy, a series of horizontal layers where the oldest materials are found at the bottom while the youngest are at the top.

The evolution of the organisms was a highlight of the lesson for Shuayb Rahman. “My favorite part of the activity was learning how the fossils lived back then and how they changed because some look really different than what they look like now,” he said.

“I wanted to allow students to touch something that is millions, or even billions, of years old, to discover a piece of wood that is now stone, and to solve a puzzle about the Earth. Many people never see a fossil anywhere besides a museum, presentation, or book. I wanted this activity to be interactive, not just hypothetical or abstract,” said Hepp.

Hands-on science activities help students like Noah Sudberry better understand the curriculum. “It can sometimes be easier and more fun to learn in a way where you can see and feel the real thing. The petrified wood and the sandstone made it easier to learn about how they were fossilized,” he said.

Participating in hands-on activities like this can set students on a career path. With this lesson, Hepp may have inspired a student to explore and possibly discover past creatures that roamed the Earth.

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