2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 1:30 PM-5:30 PM


REPINE, Tom, West Virginia Geol and Economic Survey, 1 Mont Chateau Road, Morgantown, WV 26507, HEMLER, Deb, Science and Mathematics, Fairmont State Univ, 1201 Locust Ave, Fairmont, WV 26554 and RENTON, John J., Geology and Geography, West Virginia Univ, 1424 Dogwood Ave, Morgantown, WV 26505-2310, repine@geosrv.wvnet.edu

An Upper Pennsylvanian (Conemaugh Group, Glenshaw Formation) tetrapod trackway discovered in a local coal mine is displayed at the West Virginia Geological Survey Museum. A museum cast of the trackway is being used as a teaching tool by Fairmont State University to help K-12 teachers and students appreciate the nature of the scientific process. The preserved trace fossil is suggested to represent numerous in-line imprints made by an amphibian walking near, across, or along a muddy near-shore area. The ichnofossil provides the perfect tool for stimulating conversations that test student misconceptions of science as a set of definitive answers derived from the neat and orderly interpretation of acquired facts. Student measurement of trackway data begins the process of active engagement in the process of scientific extrapolation and speculation about the animal. A summarized literature review is provided to guide their extrapolation. Our approach is to use the trackway as learning-stimulus using the premise that most students can relate to footprints they or a pet have made when walking in mud, sand, or snow. To make the trackway more accessible for students, a life-size one-to-one scale drawing of the trackway was created. This easily reproduced paper copy provides students with space to draw, measure, and sketch. Our goals are threefold. First, we wish to raise awareness of science as a process. The tenuous and unresolved nature of many ichnofossils does not fit well with most students' preconceived notion of science. Instead of clear answers, trackway studies often raise more questions than can be answered. As a result, the scientific interpretation, even by the professionals, remains uncomfortably blurry and open to debate. Second, by emphasizing the notion that much about this track maker is, and most likely will remain, speculative, we wish to make students appreciate how, through careful thought and consideration, they too can generate entirely plausible, but not verifiably correct, ideas about this animal. Finally, we are interested in obtaining reviewers ideas, suggestions, and data that will help us both improve the activity and narrow the identity of the track maker. The classroom lesson is based upon a constructivist three-stage learning cycle philosophy.