EVERY YOUNG kid will tell you that dinosaurs and fossils are really cool or, in the words of one four-year old, "dinosaurs are cool and fossils are the best!" Dinosaurs and fossils are the window through which most kids and many adults now get their first introduction to science. Paleontology is art, science, and imagination; it inspires a wealth of curiosity by students about ancient life and helps all of us to know about our origins and how our world with humans came to be.

More than any other science, paleontology can provide opportunities for young students to become involved in learning science. Students can participate in civic projects by letting their political leaders know how they feel about protecting fossil resources for future generations or by working with legislators to enact legislation. Furthermore, knowledge of the past and the earth's 3.5-billion-year history can provide students with sound approaches to future critical issues of planetary wellness that will need to be solved as the world's populations and cultures continue to expand.

Interest in fossils and the history of life on earth has increased greatly in recent years. By the time most kids begin kindergarten they have mastered the scientific names and vital statistics of the most popular dinosaurs. In my experience, kids know more than their parents about ancient life, and almost every teacher has to work hard to keep one step ahead of their students. This isn't surprising. Knowledge of fossils is reinforced in many aspects of young children's lives. New fossil discoveries are regularly highlighted on television and in the newspapers. Family summer vacations often include visits to some fossil Mecca such as Dinosaur National Monument, the Denver Museum of Natural History, or the American Museum of Natural History. Almost anywhere in the world it is possible for children to find fossils of ancient creatures close to their own backyard. And, many educators have taken advantage of students' interests by including dinosaurs and other extinct organisms in their curricula. This great interest in fossils and paleontology make it an ideal subject area for teaching students about the way that science works.

But knowledge of the fossil record is misunderstood by many. In a recent analysis by the National Science Foundation, only 44% of American adults sampled thought that the statement "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals" was true, and just over half actually believed that dinosaurs and the earliest human beings lived during the same time. These statistics are truly appalling, especially given the high profile of human paleontology in the media and the thousands of bits of information on human evolution and the fossil record of dinosaurs. These misunderstandings certainly point to the importance of providing more science education and studies in paleontology as part of the K-12 school curriculum. It is essential not only to correct these misconceptions in our knowledge about the past, but also to present the rational approach to problem solving that is so vital to science.

Paleontology is a springboard for teaching students about the way that science works through the application of experiments in basic science and technology as shown by the many projects contained in this volume. Paleontology is a synthetic science that uses methodologies developed in all sciences and technologies. From mathematics, the basic sciences, and engineering, to high-tech applications such as satellite remote sensing, C-T scanning technology, and computer modeling, paleontologists derive important clues that help to decipher the nature, history, and patterns of past life.

Paleontology can also get students involved in civic projects. In Colorado, a group of grade schoolers inspired the legislature to make Stegosaurus the state fossil. In the past several years legislation has been introduced into the United States Congress that attempts to preserve valuable fossils that come from public lands. There are many views on how we can best preserve our important educational and scientifically valuable fossils and students can examine the issues to let their congresspersons know how they feel about preserving fossils for future generations to study and learn from.
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The basic techniques that prepare us for the scientific study of fossils are simple and can be mastered by young students. By becoming involved in the discovery, preparation, curation, and interpretation of fossils, students can understand the process of science and even contribute new knowledge.

Fossils are the remains of extinct organisms. They are first discovered where natural erosion or human excavations have exposed fossil-bearing rocks. The field paleontologist collects fossils and maintains a careful and thorough field notebook which outlines precisely the geographic locality and the rock layers in which the fossils were discovered. This is critical information for all fossils because it establishes the time and place the plant or animal once lived.

Once the well-documented fossils make it back to the laboratory, usually at a museum, university, or school, they are carefully cleaned and prepared to insure they will be preserved and stabilized as close as possible to the original state of the organism. The specimens are then described to record what was actually found — a fragmentary leaf or shell, a part of a skull, or a complete skeleton — and identified to determine the kind of organism. All of the information surrounding each specimen — where it was found; what rock layer it was discovered in ; who discovered it; what is preserved; what organism it represent; and when it was discovered — is recorded into a catalog book and a computer data record for ready reference and shared use. The specimens are placed into archival trays or boxes and metal cabinets or shelving to ensure safe handling and preservation for future students and scientists. All of the specimens are kept together in a collection. The very special and unique scientific and educational specimens will make it to the museum exhibition where, equally important, everyone will learn from them and enjoy their value to our understanding of past life.
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Paleontology is rich not only in the discovery of new specimens and organisms but also in the many scientific ideas that have yet to be explored. Many of these ideas can be investigated by professionals, amateurs, and students. As much as any other scientific discipline, and more so than most, it is possible for beginning students to collect the scientific data on fossils and interpret the results.

Paleontology has essentially three basic goals: (1) to describe the world's past biodiversity; (2) to outline the history of life on earth; and (3) to develop new ideas about evolution and ecology. The first goal is to describe the world's past biodiversity: all of the micro-organisms, plants and animals that have existed since the origin of life. We continually hear about new discoveries and we are far from fully understanding the richness of past biodiversity. Phylogenetic and systematic studies provide us with key information for understanding how organisms lived. For example, by understanding the engineering of the shapes and forms of organisms we can interpret the habits and adaptive features of past plants and animals and their ecological roles within ancient communities.

The second goal of paleontology is to outline the history of life. Knowledge gained from the age of the rocks within which fossils are found provides us with the sequence of change that has encompassed the history of life. Samples of the same fossil species or related species can be placed into the order in time that they lived in order to understand the evolutionary history of a group. By examining all of the organisms that come from sequentially ordered fossil beds, we can develop temporal maps and scenarios of the changes that have taken place in ecological communities.

The final goal of paleontology is to use knowledge of past life to develop new concepts and principles of evolution and ecology and perhaps even develop new theories about how our world has changed over time. Only by examining the evolutionary histories of species and communities through many different rock sequences can we examine the information for consistencies and similarities that reveal the processes of evolution and ecology that have governed the pattern of life's history. By combining this information with the earth's physical changes in climate, atmospheric chemistry, and continental positions, we can understand how life has been impacted by physical change, and further, how life has impacted the physical environment. Basic here is to understand the actual patterns of species evolution and whether the interaction of species has most effected the evolutionary changes we see in the fossil record, or if the physical environment has been most important in forcing such events as the origin or extinction of species. Topics of how species evolve or become extinct are interesting and important in their own right, but these events are also crucial to understanding how we need to preserve and carefully manage our current and future world.
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Paleontology is highly relevant to the modern and future world. We can learn how climate change has effected past organisms as well as how organisms have changed the physical world. We can also better understand the principles of extinction, evolutionary change, and biodiversity. Understanding, for example, the effects of global warming in the past can at least provide students with knowledge of its impacts on life. Knowing how climate change affects life can lead to understanding potential changes in future ecosystems and changes that will effect human land-use. Similarly, students can imagine how changes in human land-use and exponential population growth might result in the same effects we see in the fossil record due to physical environmental change. This is crucial because human society as a whole and many of its political leaders have not come to grips with the demographics of exponential population growth, consequent urbanization and loss of habitats that many perceive will dramatically change the course of life on earth. Paleontology can provide us with an understanding of the depth of history for millions of years and an ethic that includes at its core a long-term stewardship for planetary wellness.

Paleontology can be the rosetta stone for helping students understand the importance of science, how science is done, and how all of the sciences tie together. By incorporating novel activities and studies that are tied to both state and federal standards for science literacy, we can take advantage of student's interest in fossils to give them models for understanding how the world works and at the same time better prepare them for future decisions that will shape their lives and their world.
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I thank Karen Arnedo on the manuscript, Katrina Arnedo for her astute observations on the fossil record, and especially Judy Scotchmoor for her dedication to the preparation of this volume and organization of this workshop.