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Discovering mass extinctions in the fossil record


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This activity (suitable for distance learning) is designed to introduce students to the nature and process of science through the discovery of mass extinctions in the fossil record. Students will explore the fossil record of brachiopods and bivalves using the Paleobiological Database, identify patterns in their data, and generate and evaluate hypotheses. They will also document this process using the Understanding Science flowchart. Clicking the link above will download the Word file for this lesson.



Life Science, Nature and Process of Science, Earth science

2 hours

Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.

  • The real process of science is complex, iterative, and can take many different paths.

  • Scientists test their ideas (hypotheses and theories) by figuring out what expectations are generated by an idea and making observations to find out whether those expectations are borne out.

  • Scientists can test ideas about events and processes long past, very distant, and not directly observable.

  • Scientists look for patterns in their observations and data.

  • Raw data must be analyzed and interpreted before we can tell whether a scientific idea is likely to be accurate or inaccurate.

  • Analysis of data usually involves putting data into a more easily accessible format (visualization, tabulation, or quantification of qualitative data).

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