Adventures in Paleontology addresses a fascinating and important area of science that has stimulated the imagination of countless children. The book would make a useful addition to middle school courses in Earth or life science, especially where the history of life on Earth has a prominent focus. Creative middle school and upper elementary teachers will find the volume a valued addition to their working libraries.
The activities are organized into nine chapters, each with an expository introduction and a separate section of notes for the teacher. The introductions place paleontology into the larger context of both scientific practice and knowledge. The explanatory power of evolution is clearly demonstrated in the content and sequence of the chapters and in the evidentiary structure of evolutionary arguments. Topics include the formation of fossils; the collection, preparation, and interpretation of fossils; extinctions; determining the age of the Earth; evolution; and biological diversity. Each activity has the general structure of an informative topical introduction, a procedural description of the activity, and follow-up directions and questions for analysis and reflection.
Most activities fall into several categories---analogical and working models and simulations of both processes and concepts; interpretations of data in graphical, pictorial, textual, and quantitative form; and firsthand investigations of real materials (such as fossils and micrometeorites). The final chapter extends the activities into the realm of art through creative and interpretive projects. The activities are engaging, and many are distinctive, building a bridge between children’s widespread enchantment with fossils and dinosaurs and scientific inquiry.
Some caution is warranted. The activities, although engaging and original, will not stand alone. Without adequate context, some might leave children with disconnected and possibly meaningless bits of information. Some of the activities may need additional comments on safety for a teacher who is not conversant with certain techniques and materials. Occasionally, some ambiguity arises over who is being addressed in a procedure, teacher or student. The content of the activities is demanding. Although grades 5-8 are targeted, some aspects may not match the skill level or cognitive readiness of a number of intended students. For example, the mathematical expressions of measures of biological diversity would likely be challenging for many students in the target range. In addition to carefully building an appropriate context, the teacher who decides to use these intriguing activities will have to make the effort to collect, purchase, build, and prepare a variety of materials. In my opinion, though, capturing the interest and excitement of students is worth the effort.