The Earth has gone through many periods of great change during its tumultuous life. Often students fail to realize that the planet on which we live today is very different from the one that formed billions of years ago. Teaching students about the Earth’s history can help put their life into perspective. Also, teaching about Earth history and fossil discovery can be an engaging activity that encourages them to keep up the exciting hunt for knowledge.
1. Introduce the eras. Explain to the children that the Earth has gone through many eras of change. List the eras, starting with the Hadeon Era, when the Earth formed, and moving to the Quaternary period, which is the era we are in today. Create a chart containing all of the eras and have students fill it out by adding the dates that the era included and the major Earth events that occurred during that era.
2. Create a timeline with students. Work with students to create timelines on which they can label the different eras. Have the students color code their timeline by selecting a color for each era and coloring the timeline accordingly. Have students list the major occurrences during each era under the period on the timeline in the same color that they used to mark the era on the timeline. Post these around the room so that students have a daily visual reminder.
3. Use children’s literature to introduce the topic of fossils. Explain to students that scientists gain information through studying fossils. Obtain a copy of “Fossils Tell of Long Ago,” by Aliki. This book gives students a good introduction to the concept of fossil formation. Read the book aloud to students, or have them read it silently. Then explain to students that you are going to discuss how fossils are made.
4. Discuss how fossils are formed. Explore the three ways in which fossils form including mineral replacement, carbon films and coal. If possible, provide students with actual examples of fossils formed in each manner. If you do not have examples, collect pictures of fossils formed in each way so that students can see how each type of formation differs.
5. Dig for fossils. To help students understand how scientists search for fossils, have students complete a fossil dig. Set up a dig for students using large containers and sand. Place sample fossils or fossil pictures in the sand. Then have groups of students dig carefully through the sand to locate the fossils. To add to the excitement of the dig, provide the kids with small shovels or tooth brushes so they can dig just as the pros do.
6. Seek information from the fossils. Once the students have dug up their fossil, have them complete a project on that fossil. Have students work individually or in a group to identify the fossil, tell which method was used to create the fossil and identify the era in which the fossil first began to form. After they have gathered this information, have them present their findings to the class in much the same way archeologists would present their findings to the general public.