I LOVE looking at and collecting fossils. It's fun to try and picture what the organism looked like and what type of fossil it is. Students love them too! One tip from experience: Students enjoy them A LOT more if they have bigger samples to look at. I know what you're thinking... "Becca, I don't have the budget to buy a ton of large fossils." Instead of buying a bunch of kits with an assortment of small fossils, buy one large fossil of each type and have students rotate around the room to view. I also place them on rubber dissection mats (like in the image shown above) so they are better protected.
If you are an earth science teacher (or a biology teacher who is sneaking in some fossil activities during your geologic time unit) here is a list of activities to get you started!
1. In this activity, students assemble puzzle pieces to match up fossil types with their definition and a picture.
2. Digfield School has a series of fossil lesson plans that can be found here.
3. In this activity titled "The Great Fossil Find," students act like paleontologists and assemble fossil bones to determine the type of animal. It has a fun script to go along with it. My middle schoolers loved it!
4. Want to make your own fossils out of plaster of paris? Check out directions here.
5. This station lab has 8 different stations students will rotate through all dealing with fossils. They will watch a video, view virtual fossils, assemble paper bones, read about the La Brea tar pits, and more.
6. Amber fossils are super expensive to buy. If you want to show your students some fake amber fossils, you can order them from Amazon (affiliate link). Another option is to make your own with plastic insects from the dollar store and hot glue (photo courtesy @quirky_science on instagram).
Also... just for fun... you could buy some insect lollipops and see if you have some brave students that want a tasty treat!
7. As a biologist, I talk to my students about the transition from life in the ocean to land. If this is the case, shouldn't we have evidence of this in the fossil record? I enjoy this video clip of Dr. Neil Shubin's team finding the Tiktaalik fossil.
8. If you want to show students how the process of permineralization works, you can use epsom salt and a sponge to replicate the process. You can find directions and a lab worksheet here.
9. The Natural History Museum of Utah has a set of investigations where students explore a dinosaur quarry and analyze 3D virtual fossils. The investigations are comprehensive and students will get a deep dive into what it feels like to be a paleontologist exploring fossils! It's free with a teacher login, be sure to check it out!
10. The American Museum of Natural History has a drag-and-drop interactive where students sort fossil layers from oldest to youngest. Great for relative dating practice.
11. Want to teach students how we use radiometric dating to determine the absolute age of a fossil? Grab some pennies (or puzzle pieces) and follow the directions found here.
12. At africanfossils.org, students can explore virtual fossils.
13. Coprolites are fossilized dung. While that sounds pretty gross, they can be colorful and pretty! Scientists can observe coprolites and learn about what the organism ate and make inferences about their habitat. Learn how to make your own coprolite for students to explore here.
14. Here is a "fossilize me" card game from Science Friday.
If you are teaching a geology unit, be sure to check out my rocks blog post for more resources!
You can probably tell based on my blog name.... I like rocks. I don't claim to be an expert geologist, but I have a deep love for pretty rocks, am fascinated by them and how they form, and have quite a collection.
Students often think rocks are boring until you put some pretty samples in front of them and get the juices flowing on how they formed. Why do some rocks have small crystals, others have large crystals, and others have no crystals at all? How come some rocks have large holes and others have layers? If you get some cool samples in their hands I promise they get excited.
(Tip: bigger is better. Students get a lot more excited looking at a large geode than they do a tiny one. Save up for a few larger pieces and have students rotate around the room, opposed to buying multiple small samples).
Here are some fun ways to teach the rock cycle to students:
1. ROCK CYCLE GAME: Have students take a ride through the rock cycle with this interactive activity. Students will roll a cube and head to different stations in the classroom (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic) and collect tokens along the way.
2. STARBURST ROCK CYCLE: Want to model the rock cycle? This lab is always a favorite! Grab some starburst and have students cut, mold, and melt them to represent stages of the rock cycle.
3. INTERACTIVE: Learner.org has a rock cycle click-and-learn interactive for students.
4. INTERACTIVE DIAGRAM: This diagram allows students to click and learn about each step of the rock cycle. This is a great option if you have laptops in your classroom! Students will also use Google maps to see each rock type out in nature.
5. CARD SORT: I'm a big fan of card sorts as a quick formative assessment activity. Have students sort the cards under the proper heading.
6. INDUSTRIAL USES: How are different rocks (and minerals) used industrially? In this card sort activity, students will pair a rock (or mineral) with an industrial use card. This activity makes rocks and minerals more relevant.
7. VIRTUAL ROCK BOX: If you don't have access to samples, students can explore these rock types virtually.
8. VIRTUAL ROCK IDENTIFICATION: Want students to identify rocks based on their characteristics? This site has virtual labs where students need to identify igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks.
9. STATION LAB: I love station labs because students are more engaged when they get to get up and move around the room. This station lab includes 8 stations for students to explore rocks and take a deeper dive into the rock cycle.
10. ROCK CYCLE SONGS: We all know that it's hard to remember what we ate for dinner last night, but can sing a song we learned the lyrics to in 6th grade. Adding music to text makes thinks stick! Check out this Youtube video that teaches students about the rock cycle to the tune of "We will rock you," or "Life is a highway."
I hope these help you during your geology unit! If you want to check out some fossil lesson plans, check out this blog post. Rock on!
I absolutely LOVE teaching plate tectonics. What kid doesn't love learning about earthquakes and volcanoes?! I've compiled a list of activities you can choose from to make this one of your students' favorite units (and probably your favorite too).
1. Why do Earth's plates move in the first place? Use this demo to show students how convection in Earth's mantle causes plate movement.
2. We know Earth's continents have been on the move for millions of years. Here is a free lesson plan from the American Museum of Natural History where students assemble puzzle piece continents to form Pangaea.
3. A fun activity teachers use to model faults is using frosting and crackers. Have students slide the crackers across the frosting to model convergent, divergent, and transform faults.
Want to avoid food products in class? USGS has foldable paper fault templates. Check them out here.
4. Here is a fun demo you could do with students to show convection with hot cocoa "plates" (and students end up with a tasty treat).
5. Have you ever tried digital choice boards? Choice boards are fun for students because they get to choose how they want to demonstrate their learning. This choice board includes 9 options ranging from a writing prompt, crossword puzzle, listening to a podcast episode, watching a YouTube video, and more.
6. Virtual Seismometer- This site has a virtual seismometer students can play around with.
7. Google Art and Culture has a ton of virtual field trips that are amazing! In this virtual trip students can explore the inside of a Hawaiian Lava Tube. You can check it out here.
8. Speaking of volcanoes, check out this lab where students see how hot spots in Earth's crust form volcanic island chains.
9. This virtual earthquake activity teaches students how to analyze seismograms and find the epicenter of an earthquake. It's free and doesn't require flash! You can find it here.
10. I love to use tarsia puzzles to help students review vocabulary before a test or quiz. To assemble tarsia puzzles, students pair up a vocabulary word on one triangle with the matching definition on another triangle. This tarsia puzzle comes in both print (PDF) and digital (Google slide) versions.
11. Does your school have access to a 3D printer? You can print out this "Mr. Faulty" box to show students how faults form with tectonic movement. The Shape of Science sells the 3D printing file for a small fraction of what you would pay to buy a pre-made one from a science supplier.
12. Looking for a digital way to review plate tectonics? Check out this interactive diagram where students click and learn about plates and faults. Following the activity they will complete a self-grading Google form quiz.
13. Google Earth has a seafloor age layer interactive! Students can explore the age of different parts of the seafloor. You could kick off your seafloor spreading lesson by having them explore this and discover where the oldest and youngest areas are located (and figure out why!)
14. Looking for a project? Have students build earthquake-proof houses and test them out! Here are directions from Science Buddies website. If you'd rather keep it simple you could also use toothpicks and marshmallows to build the structures.
Have any other favorite plate tectonics lessons? Share them in the comments!
If you couldn't already tell by the name of my blog and TpT store, I really enjoy looking at and collecting rocks and fossils. My house and classroom are full of them! Many kids might tell you rocks are stupid, but you'd be surprised how interested they get when you leave them out for them to touch and handle. While many schools might have rock and fossil kits with many small samples, I personally prefer to have large samples for them to handle. I like larger samples for 2 reasons. 1- students are more interested in large samples, and 2- they are harder for students to stick in their pockets and walk away with. When I used to use the small kits samples seemed to disappear- especially the shark tooth fossils!
Now that I teach biology I don't get to dive into rocks much, but I definitely bust out the fossils during my geologic time unit. I want students to be able to touch and handle the fossils, but also be gentle with them. When I put the fossils out at each station, I put them on dissection mats. That way when students set them down it minimizes any damage. I also like choosing some fossils that the students won't recognize. It really makes them think about what type of fossil it is and where it lived. You can click on the slideshow images below to see which samples I used this year.
In my TpT store I have editable lab templates for both rock classification and fossil identification. You can customize them for the samples that you have available to you. Check them out by CLICKING HERE.