Teaching Paleontology in the 21st Century

October 31st, 2010

My friend Leif Tapanila from Idaho State University giving his presentation in the Teaching Paleontology session this morning. If you look closely you'll see he's wearing a monkey hat for eccentric reasons of his own.

DENVER, COLORADO — The teaching of paleontology has changed dramatically over the course of my teaching career, and this excellent topical session at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting was designed for direct conversations about paleontological pedagogy. It was convened by four paleontologists (Peg Yacobucci, Rowan Lockwood, Warren Allmon and Bruce Macfadden) and had an array of successful teachers explaining what they do, what they want to do, and where they see opportunities.  Wooster geology alumna Tricia Kelley was a participant talking about how to present evolution to students who may not be open to the idea.

The primary lesson I learned, along with a dozen examples of better ways to teach, was that we must emphasize to our students and the public that paleontology is a science at the intersection of geology and biology and so it has much to offer to debates about evolution, climate change and public policy.  Too often we get caught up in the details of taxonomy (brachiopods are usually given as the example!) and forget to make the connections from ancient fossils to concerns we have in the world today.

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