Real Monsters: Using Fossils to Emphasize Critical Thinking Skills in College



August 7 (Tuesday), 6 p.m., Teton Co. Library Auditorium– Open to Public. Presentation: “Real Monsters: Using Fossils to Emphasize Critical Thinking Skills in College, Presented by Leif Tapanila, Idaho State University.

A new course taught at Idaho State University has two central ideas:  (1) Reality is far more interesting than any work of fiction, and (2) The fossil record is the best example to teach critical thinking skills. As a science educator, I’ve long understood that dinosaurs and other real monsters are the best “gateway” for getting kids and the public interested in science. In response to a new learning objective on critical thinking added to the core general education requirement in Idaho colleges, I developed a course that puts T rex and other fantastic beasts in service of teaching critical thinking skills. In an age rich with information and equally rich in fake news, this course develops student behaviors to identify evidence, verify sources, and evaluate the quality of arguments. We do this in the safe, unpoliticized realm of paleontology, where the methods of science provide a structure to test ideas and weigh evidence to arrive at the most likely solution. In the two years of teaching the course, it has built a strong enrollment with our undergraduate students.