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Using Museums to Teach Undergraduate Paleontology and Evolution

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2017

Warren D. Allmon
Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca, New York 14850 and Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853
Robert M. Ross
Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca, New York 14850
Richard A. Kissel
Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca, New York 14850
David C. Kendrick
Department of Geoscience, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York 14456
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Museum exhibitions possess a long history of serving as useful tools for teaching both paleontology and evolutionary biology to college undergraduates. Yet, they are frequently under-appreciated and underutilized. However, they remain potentially outstanding resources because they can be used to meet a spectrum of learning objectives related to nature of science, real-world relevance, and student interest. Specifically, even small museum displays can provide: 1) authentic specimens, which often are more diverse, of higher quality, and historically more significant than those in teaching collections; 2) specimens in context, with other specimens and/or geological or biological background available; 3) examples of how fossils connect to virtually all of Earth and life sciences (explaining why they have so frequently been at the center of traditional “natural history”); 4) cross-disciplinary experiences, connecting science, art, technology, and history within a social context; and 5) opportunities for students to learn about teaching. A survey of instructor-developed activities performed within a host of natural history museums—with particular attention devoted to the Museum of the Earth, an affiliate of Cornell University—suggests that natural history exhibitions, regardless of size and scope, can complement and strengthen formal education in an undergraduate setting.

Research Article
Copyright © 2012 by The Paleontological Society 

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