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Ancient Animals

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General Overview

Life on Earth likely began in the ancient oceans. Millions of years ago, there were marine organisms who died and, in certain circumstances, left a record of their lives as fossils. Scientists are able to study prehistoric ocean life by finding fossils… sometimes they can even be found inland! Some of these prehistoric sea creatures went extinct when they couldn’t adapt to changes in their environment, and some were successful and have modern day relatives. Depending on the fossils, we can see evidence of the environment the animal experienced all those years ago. 


In this activity, students will gather evidence to support an explanation of which past organisms have evolved into which modern day organisms by identifying anatomical similarities and differences allowing them to consider their evolutionary history and infer evolutionary relationships.

Alignment with Next Generation Science Standards

*These are supplementary activities that can be used before or after Project Oceanology programs, designed to help teachers integrate their Project Oceanology experiences into the curriculum.

Additional Resources - Elementary School
  • Bubble Trouble - In this lesson, students will investigate how differences in lava types explain differences in the shape and eruption patterns among volcanoes.

  • Fossil Dig Activity: Where can you find whales in a desert? - In this lesson, students explore the idea that the rock under our feet sometimes contains fossils, and investigate how these fossils reveal changes in habitat through time.

  • Dinosaur Decisions: How do we know what animals looked like? - In this lesson, students analyze data from dinosaur fossils in order to provide evidence about the appearance and behavior of those dinosaurs when they were living. 

  • Dino Tracks: Can you outrun a dinosaur? - In this lesson, students will learn about how fossil dinosaur tracks reveal how quickly a dinosaur was running. In the activity, students figure out if they could have won a race with a dinosaur that was just their size.

Additional Resources - Middle School
  • It’s a Date - Students will use relative and absolute dating techniques to estimate the age of a mystery fossil!

  • The Great Fossil Find - Students are taken on an imaginary fossil hunt! Following a script read by the teacher, students "find" paper "fossils" of some unknown creature, only a few at a time. Each time, they try to reconstruct the creature, and each time their interpretation may change as new pieces are "found".

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