Where Should We Place Archaeopteryx?

Authors: Jan David Snyder
Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute

Target age or
ability group:
High School (9-12) Mainstream Biology
Modification of this program available for Language Minority classes.
Class time
1 class period (approximately 50 minutes).
Students will probably require a few minutes of introductory remarks and a brief model demonstration before use.
Materials and equipment: Macintosh computer with the Hypercard program and printer.
Summary of activity: This interactive computer activity provides students the opportunity to consider features of various groups of animals in determining where an extinct organism (Archaeopteryx) might be phylogenetically placed. An important feature of this activity has to do with the student's understanding that the phylogenetic structure is founded upon the collection of various people's interpretation of evidence.
Rather than have a notion that science is a collection of facts, the student should realize the real nature of science. That is, science is a collection of ideas which can be modified as new discoveries are made. In the spirit of ever-present potential changes in interpretation of evidence, as well as possible shifts in perspective, students are encouraged to consider known evidence and construct their own phylogenetic arrangement.
This program should provide the student with enough evidence to make a reasonable determination of where Archaeopteryx should be placed in the phylogenetic scheme. In this sense, participation in this activity will encourage development in higher level thinking skills. In the same process, the student should also learn about evidence that supports the concept of evolution.
The teacher may decide whether or not to use the term "evolution" in the classroom. Whatever choice is made, the student will be exposed to the notion that within the variety of living things there appears to exist relationships. Furthermore, these relationships can be envisioned as a type of "family tree" and many of the organisms in this tree are no longer living (i.e., they are extinct).
As a result of participating in this activity, students may also be led to further investigate, either through further activities or the literature, concepts related to fossil exploration, discovery and interpretation, as well as similar examples in the phylogeny of living things.
Prior knowledge, concepts or vocabulary necessary to complete activity: None.

Teacher Instructions

Upon opening this program the student sees the first card, which provides the title (Where Should We Place Archaeopteryx ?) and basic instructions. When the "Information" button is clicked, the next card appears and gives background information with instructions to continue by clicking the "Pictures" button.

Two pictures of Archaeopteryx are provided: one of the original fossil and another that shows biologists' interpretation of how the skeleton looked. The next card provides a list of characteristics of Archaeopteryx and a "Question" button that asks the student to determine where to place this group of animals in the phylogenetic scheme.

The next card provides students with a chance to view the five vertebrate groups (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) which, to some degree or another, share some characteristics with Archaeopteryx. Students are be able to learn about features of each group and are asked to decide which are shared between groups, and which are found only within one group.

Upon completion of the exploration of these vertebrate groups, the student goes to the last card, which features a question to which the student will respond. A place to record the student's name is provided. The student places the cursor in the "Your name" box and type his or her name and then places the cursor in the "Your answer" box and types an answer. Instructions indicate that the answer should be approximately 100 words long.

After completing the answer, the student clicks the "Print" button. Assuming the computer is connected to a printer, a hard copy with the question, student's name and answer is printed. All of the student's entries will be automatically erased and the program returns to the original card ready for the next user.

For further information and a copy of the program call or write:

Mr. Jan David Snyder
Camelback High School
4612 North 28th Street
Phoenix, Arizona 85016
(602) 817-6036

This program is written on Hypercard. Graphics utilize Claris Works. If you wish a computer copy of this program, please include a pre-formatted high-density blank Macintosh disk with your request.

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