Junior Paleontologist

Krista Jankowski National Park Service - Department of the Interior
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Informative Text , Student Guide , Game
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This Junior Paleontologist Activity Book created by the National Park Service provides students (ages 5-12) with an opportunity to learn how fossils form based on the properties of the rocks that support that formation and the field of paleontology. Topics such as descriptions of geologic time, connections to past climate and environments, and methods such as relative age dating used by paleontologists are included. Students are also encouraged to explore national parks and local areas to further explore where fossils can be found. The book contains some extraneous material ( mazes, dot-to-dot, etc.) that can be eliminated.


Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

4-ESS1-1 Identify evidence from patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers for changes in a landscape over time to support an explanation for changes in a landscape over time.

Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence from patterns could include rock layers with marine shell fossils above rock layers with plant fossils and no shells, indicating a change from land to water over time; and, a canyon with different rock layers in the walls and a river in the bottom, indicating that over time a river cut through the rock.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include specific knowledge of the mechanism of rock formation or memorization of specific rock formations and layers. Assessment is limited to relative time.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Connections between landform change over time and rock layers containing specific fossils could be explored in greater depth using the relative age dating activity. Students could create some form of multimedia such as a matching game presentation or book giving evidence for determining which match responses were correct. This type of activity would encourage flexibility at the teacher level. Teacher guided discussion should expand the activity by asking students to explain what type of landform changes might have occurred based on fossils found in specific rock layers.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The activity on page 8 asks students to use rock column illustrations to compare fossil ages. They could journal responses to questions presented giving evidence for responses based on the ways rock layers are presented. Teacher could use their responses as one example of formative assessment.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Focus of discussion could be based on rock layers and where they are found. Discussion could include questions such as- “What earth forces could have influenced the pattern of rock formations?” In order to fully implement the DCI, students could superimpose a map of earthquake patterns in the U.S on a US map, noting connections between landform changes and rock layer formation. Topographical maps of the US could also be compared/contrasted Teacher guided discussion could help students make connections between landforms/ landform changes, and geography/ geology of regional areas. DCI could be further implemented by having students focus on their local area, writing to the state legislature to “adopt” a certain predominant fossil, explaining its importance in determining changes over time. If applicable, a National Park Ranger could be interviewed to discuss rock formation patterns.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Activity 6 which asks students to circle types of fossils could be expanded by the teacher to include asking students to notice differences in types of rocks in which fossils are embedded. Questions could include, “ What connections can be observed between types of fossils and the types of rocks where they are found?” “Why do those connections exist?” Climate change ( as a catalyst) is discussed as an influence on landform changes and subsequent fossil formation. Teacher guided discussion could emphasize how patterns of these changes affect rock layers. DCI tip noted above could also be used as a tip here.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The focus of this activity book does support students in making sense of the phenomena of landform change, observing rock layers/fossil formation as clues to earth’s history. The theme of the CCC of Patterns is interwoven as student’s analyze and interpret relative age dating information. Inquiry based questions provided in several activity sections involve the earth history concepts detailed in the DCI.

  • Instructional Supports: This resource connects students to landform change in their local and regional areas, creating a meaningful scenario to explain how fossil formation in rock layers is affected by landform change. Students (with teacher modeling) could justify their ideas, and represent them with journal writing and chart/tally chart references. The resource provides a student-friendly format which can be expanded by the teacher to include evidence of prior knowledge. Prior knowledge could be assessed by having students play the Fossil Formation game, journalling how each statement could be affected by landform changes. Differentiated instruction is not specifically addressed; however, visual aids are included, using language appropriate for use by Grades 3-5.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Assessment for students can be included as students respond to questions provided in the activity book. Teacher could request that students journal their responses, providing evidence/illustrations. The structure for interpreting student performance is provided in the resource and can be organized in a more consistent manner to provide more direct evidence of three-dimensional learning. Teacher could use the questions for students provided to create a worksheet or journal page with areas for illustration ( Example- timeline) and descriptions provided.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: There is no interactive technological component included in this resource.