Teaching Geological and Evolutionary Processes Using Mass Extinctions

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This playlist can be used to teach concepts in geology and evolution using mass extinction events. The topics covered include paleobiology, Earth history, the causes and effects of extinctions, speciation, and human impacts. The activities allow students to use evidence to reconstruct past mass extinctions, and to make comparisons with species declines in the Anthropocene. 

By completing the resources in this playlist, students will be able to:

  • Generate and answer questions about the causes and effects of mass extinctions.
  • Make connections between extinction events of the past and the modern environmental conditions. 
  • Describe the key fossil evidence that supports the claim that birds are dinosaurs.
  • Analyze and interpret data to answer scientific questions and draw conclusions.

This playlist can be used in general high school biology, environmental science, and earth science courses. Implementing this playlist should take about five to six 50-minute class periods.

EarthViewer
Topic
Earth Science
Resource Type
Interactive Media

This Click & Learn allows students to explore the Earth from its formation 4.5 billion years ago to the present.

  • Have students complete the “Student Worksheet - Mass Extinctions” document.
  • Ask students to generate a list of questions about the causes and effects of mass extinctions. 
  • Have students post their top three questions in the classroom (physical or virtual). 
  • Have students revisit the posted questions after watching the film The Day the Mesozoic Died (resource 2 in this playlist) and completing the “Finding the Crater” activity (resource 3 in this playlist).

Estimated Time: One 50-minute class period.

The Day the Mesozoic Died
Topic
Evolution
Earth Science
Science Practices
Resource Type
Videos

This film tells the story of the scientific quest to explain the disappearance of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period.

To use this resource as part of this playlist, combine it with other resources in the playlist as follows:  

  • Show students Act 1 of the film (0:00–15:30)
  • Have students complete the “Finding the Crater” activity (resource 3 in this playlist).
  • Show students the rest of the film after they complete the activity.
  • Have students revisit the three questions they generated at the beginning of this lesson sequence (resource 1 in the playlist).

Estimated Time: One 50-minute class period.

Finding the Crater
Topic
Evolution
Earth Science
Resource Type
Activities

In this activity, students evaluate geological evidence from sites around the world. They use this evidence to predict the location of the asteroid impact that caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

Use the suggestions in the “Teacher Materials” to implement this activity.

Estimated Time: One to two 50-minute class periods.

Vertebrate Declines and the Sixth Mass Extinction
Topic
Environmental Science
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

In this Data Point activity, students interpret a figure to examine species population declines that may be a part of the next mass extinction.

Use the suggestions in the “Educator Materials” to guide students through a discussion about the figure. Ask these additional questions about the role of humans in the sixth mass extinction:

  • What is the role of humans in generating these patterns?
  • What are some similarities and differences between the sixth mass extinction and the Cretaceous mass extinction?

Estimated Time: One 50-minute class period.

Great Transitions: The Origin of Birds
Topic
Anatomy & Physiology
Evolution
Resource Type
Videos

Some species, including the evolutionary ancestors of birds, survived the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous. This film explores fossil evidence showing that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Have students watch the film and complete the film activity (resource 6 in this playlist). 

Estimated Time: Half of a 50-minute class period.

Activity for The Origin of Birds
Topic
Anatomy & Physiology
Evolution
Resource Type
Activities

This activity guides students through concepts covered in the film Great Transitions: The Origin of Birds (resource 5 in this playlist).

Have students complete the “Student Quiz” individually or in groups.

Estimated Time: Half of a 50-minute class period.