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A Mini-Lesson



Anton E. Lawson & James Platt
in ABT Journal: April 1999


Basic Processes

Geological/Paleontological Patterns


A very interesting activity which looks at large paleontological patterns, is presented in an issue of the American Biology Teacher (April, 1999) by Anton Lawson (see reference below). The focus is more on critical thinking, forming testable hypotheses to challenge three "theories" (models) about the origin of the diversity of life: spontaneous generation, special creation, and evolutio. Many of the hypotheses can be tested simply by studying a sampling of fossils representative of the geological column, figuratively "gathered on a field trip into the Grand Canyon". Types and inexpensive sources of fossils you could use for this activity are presented in a companion article in the same issue of the ABT by James Platt (see references below).

The author presents the activity using a "hypothetico-deductive type of learning cycle approach. It comes very close to being an activity which uses the "fair-test" approach outlined by Craig Nelson, of the ENSI faculty. This lesson also involves considerable opportunity for scientific argumentation (claims with evidence), as expected for the new Common Core standards and the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards).

An information handout, and a worksheet form are available for students. The articles include tips and strategies for the teacher. Looks like a winner. If you try this activity, please give us your feedback.



1. Enable students to discover evidence that generally supports evolution theory and fails to support the alternative explanations of special creation and spontaneous generation.

2. Improve students' understanding of the nature of science and improve their critical thinking and scientific argumentation skills.


For copies of the two articles, contact ENSI webmaster.


For copies of Student Info and Worksheet, contact the ENSI webmaster.


Before using any of our Nature of Science lessons, be sure to read our General Background Information, with our Rationale and our Approach, and tips for Presenting the lessons for maximum effect and Dispelling some of the popular myths about science.

In any of the discussions expected with the class, select a few key items (important concepts) that lend themselves to interpretation, and introduce class to the Think-Pair-Share (TPS) routine dealing with those items. This is how "Active Learning" is done.


Lawson, Anton E. "A Scientific Approach to Teaching About Evolution & Special Creation". The American Biology Teacher, vol.61, no.4, April 1999, pages 266-274).

Platt, James E. "Putting Together Fossil Collections for 'Hands-On' Evolution Laboratories". The American Biology Teacher, vol.61, no.4, April 1999, pages 275-281).


Some of the ideas in this lesson may have been adapted from earlier, unacknowledged sources without our knowledge. If the reader believes this to be the case, please let us know, and appropriate corrections will be made. Thanks.

See References above.