AIMS Geofossils Lesson

AIMS Education Foundation
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Model
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.




Scientists can learn about past environmental conditions of the ocean by looking at microscopic organisms called foraminifera (fawr-uh-min-uh-fer-uh). Foraminifera lived in very specific salinity, temperature, and depth conditions in the ocean. By taking a core sample from the ocean floor and observing the fossilized foraminifera, we can learn about past environmental conditions. This investigation uses shapes to model the fossils, and attributes to give information about the fossil. An Information hand-out explains what each attribute means. Students use this information to write a story of their fossil record. Activity download costs $2.00.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

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Performance Expectations

3-LS4-1 Analyze and interpret data from fossils to provide evidence of the organisms and the environments in which they lived long ago.

Clarification Statement: Examples of data could include type, size, and distributions of fossil organisms. Examples of fossils and environments could include marine fossils found on dry land, tropical plant fossils found in Arctic areas, and fossils of extinct organisms.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include identification of specific fossils or present plants and animals. Assessment is limited to major fossil types and relative ages.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students will examine models of fossils, and determine the temperature, salinity and depth at which the fossils formed by using the thickness of the wall, the number of angles, and the size of the angles in the model.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students will examine the model of the foraminifera and use mathematics and computation to determine wall thickness, number of angles, and angle size of the models. They will also use logical reasoning and the position of the geofossils in the record to tell the relative order in which they formed.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This activity only uses one type of organism fossil, the foraminifera. To give a full understanding of what types of fossils can be found, the teacher should use additional activities that use different types of plant and animal fossils. Also, this activity uses a model of a fossil rather that the original fossils because the foraminifera are too small to be seen. The teacher might wish to use this background information and images to show what the organism actually looks like:

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Scientists observed patterns in the foraminifera, and the patterns are used to determine the environment of the animal. Students look for patterns in the attributes of wall thickness, number of angles, and the size of the angles in the geometric shapes.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Geofossils allows students to use models of microscopic fossils to help understand how scientists can use fossils to provide evidence of past environments. The teacher might wish to open the lesson with this picture of what millions of foraminifera might look like if they were in the ocean together: Students can discuss this phenomenon of organisms that are so tiny that we can not see them, but millions of them together can be seen from space. This will help reinforce why they have to use a model of the foraminifera. The activity allows to students to examine and interpret models, look for patterns, and use mathematics to analyze data, and provides grade‐appropriate connections to the third grade Common Core State Standards in Mathematics as they reason with shapes and their attributes.

  • Instructional Supports: This activity does provide detailed lesson plans, a data recording sheet and five different possible fossil formations. Keys are included for each fossil formation, A-E. The activity is based on real-world science, is scientifically accurate, and grade-level appropriate. Students are allowed to express, clarify, justify, interpret, and represent their ideas about the order fossils were formed, and to respond to peer and teacher feedback during group and class discussions. Geofossils does not contain any ELL, remediation, or acceleration suggestions. Connections are not made to the students’ local area, but the teacher could follow-up this activity with another activity that does feature local fossils.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Geofossils allows students to use the practice of analyzing and interpreting data, with the core idea of gathering evidence from fossils, and the crosscutting concept of patterns to make sense of the phenomena of how scientists know about environments long before man was on Earth. The teacher can observe the students as they are measuring the angles and determining the attributes of the fossils. Because each student in the group has a different fossil sheet, they must all analyze their own fossil formation. A key is given so that the teacher knows the correct answer, but the activity includes no formative assessment, rubric, or scoring guide.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not feature any interactive technology.