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Excavating Your Recycling Bin as a Fossil Record Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #:AELP-PAL000
Submitted by: Mark A. Williams, Kennedy Middle School, Albuquerque, NM
Endorsed by: These lesson plans are the result of the work of the teachers who have attended the Columbia Education Center’s Summer Workshop. CEC is a consortium of teacher from 14 western states dedicated to improving the quality of education in the rural, western, United States, and particularly the quality of math and science Education. CEC uses Big Sky Telegraph as the hub of their telecommunications network that allows the participating teachers to stay in contact with their trainers and peers that they have met at the Workshops. Date: May 1994

Grade Level(s): 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12


  • Science/Paleontology


  • trash can (with various paper clippings)
  • paper and pencil

OVERVIEW: We are going to simulate how scientists study the past. Scientists use layers of rock with fossils to understand the past. (These layers of rock are called ‘STRATA’).


  • Knowledge of Rock layers (Oldest deposited on bottom)
  • Describe objects in trash as events occurring through time
  • Fossil record is in 3-D
  • Collection of accurate data is critical
    Divide students into groups. Each group will be allowed to excavate ___cm of paper from the recycling bin. Each group is assigned a different layer of paper. Students should try to learn as much as they can about their layer. Students should record their data on paper, listing and sketching the items that they find. Students should sketch what the top view and side view of the recycling bin looks like, noting the positions of the fossils.

    Some questions that students might ask themselves include: What text is on the paper? Do you notice any names, dates, or subjects on the paper? What type of paper did you find? (ditto or xerox paper?)

    Below is an example of how students can record the information about the fossils that they discovered:

    Mr. Smith’s Quiz
    Xerox Math etc. 1cm
    Vocabulary sheet
    (Students write data collected here as a side view. However, another view from the top of the bin can also be labeled.)

    TYING IT ALL TOGETHER: Students can see that papers in the bin are similar to the fossil record in that deposition of papers in the recycling bin are events through time like the changing fossil record. Students should throughly examine data from each layer before digging through the next layer.