I ask students to think about what a fossil is and to write down some notes in their journal. Then, as I call on them to respond, I type in their answers and project them on the screen. This is a great informal pre-assessment against which to measure their growth.
Here are some examples of their responses to the question: What is a Fossil?
I ask students where they think they can find fossils. I then have them complete a writing task in which they write about their ideas about where to find fossils. Paleontologists don't use their opinions to choose locations to find fossils; their decisions are based on science. Young students operate much more on opinion and fact. Starting this unit with an examination of their beliefs about where fossils can be found is developmentally appropriate and gives them the opportunity to work on writing and supporting their ideas. Later, they will be able to reflect upon their original conceptions and explain errors in thinking and elaborate based on what they have learned.
Here is an example of what one student in my class said, "I would think two places. One the gem show, two out deep in the desert or the jungle because they are really arid, and not many people are there, so the fossils have more time to actually fossilize. Remember, fossils are bones turned to stone."
Here is another student's response.
This student has similar ideas:
This student lists both location types and they type of sediment:
Finally, this student makes a connection between fossils and arid environments:
To conclude today's lessons I have students either list or verbalize at least 2 new ideas they heard when they listened to their classmates' ideas. I also have them add words to our science word wall.