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Alberta's Fossil Heritage

  • Was naming the Royal Tyrrell Museum after Joseph Tyrrell an appropriate choice for this important centre of Alberta's fossil heritage?
  • Who deserves to own rare natural fossils and sacred objects?

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

In this challenge, students explore the significance of Alberta's fossil heritage and the work done by the Royal Tyrrell Museum by considering whether the museum was appropriately named after Joseph Tyrrell. They then consider who should own rare fossils and sacred objects found in the ground.

Activity 1
Invite students to consider why buildings have the names they do. If appropriate, use the school name as an example. Help students realize that buildings may be named for a person because of the individual's personal qualities or contributions to the community or country. Explain that students are going to consider whether the Royal Tyrrell Museum is appropriately named.

Activity 2
Assign different groups of students to research the story of Joseph Tyrrell's first expedition into Alberta and the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Students use both print and online resources (see References). Suggest that students try to answer five questions about their assigned topic: Who? What? Where? When? and Why? Arrange for students to share their information. Consider adapting the chart and strategies for Reporter's Log (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Activity 3
Invite the class to investigate whether Tyrrell is an appropriate name for the museum. Suggest three criteria to consider:

  • Are Tyrrell's qualities the kinds we would want associated with the museum; e.g., being careful, curious and knowledgeable is consistent with a museum's purpose, being dangerous, silly or greedy is less consistent with a museum's purpose?
  • Do Tyrrell's contributions match the kinds of contributions the museum continues to make?
  • Did Tyrrell's discoveries add significantly to Alberta's unique character?

Invite students to summarize what they already know that will help them answer these questions. Summarize this information under appropriate headings, such as Tyrrell's qualities, contributions to the museum and contributions to Alberta's unique character. Ask students to record adjectives used in the resources to describe Tyrrell and his work and that of the museum. Invite students to share their completed research in groups and then ask each group to take turns presenting its findings to the class. Consider adapting the chart and strategies for Collecting Information (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Activity 4
Ask students to individually consider if the museum was appropriately named after Tyrrell, based on three criteria listed above. Suggest three options: No, Yes, Maybe. You may adapt the chart and strategies for Considering Options (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Invite the maybe group to stand in a line across the front of the class and ask several spokespersons to explain their reasoning. When they are done, ask if any students in the audience have changed their mind and, if so, invite them to join the maybe group. Next, ask the no group to form a line along the side of the classroom, perpendicular to the maybe group, and invite a few spokespersons to present their reasons. When they are done, ask if any students have changed their mind and invite them to join one of the groups. Finally, arrange for the yes group to line up on the other side of the classroom, facing the no side, so that the three lines form a U shape. Invite several spokespersons to present the yes perspective. Again, when they are done, ask if any students have changed their mind and invite them to move to a different group. Encourage students who are in the yes or no line to move closer to the maybe line, if they are so inclined. Conversely, invite students in the maybe line to move to one end or the other, if they are slightly attracted to that position.

When all groups have presented their information, invite further discussion, encouraging students to change their mind when they hear reasons that cause them to question their current position. There is no need to reach consensus on the issue.

Activity 5
As an extension activity, invite students to individually prepare a card or letter of appreciation for the contributions made by the museum, Joseph Tyrrell or Alberta's rich fossil legacy. They may choose to address their card to Mr. Tyrrell or actually send it to the Tyrrell Museum. Ask students to list various positive things in one of these areas and decide which is the best of these contributions. Record students' suggested positive features in words or pictures on large index cards. Ask students what might make one good thing more important than another. You may want to adapt the chart and strategies for Selecting the Best Thing (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Activity 6
Extend the discussion of Alberta's unique fossil heritage by indicating, on a world map, the various regions where fossils are found, encouraging students to recognize that fossils are unique to only a few regions. Explain the connection between the presence of fossilized bones and the presence of fossil fuel. Ask students to consider how each might be considered a natural resource. Point out that something that began millions of years ago contributes to the province today and that Alberta's fossil heritage has provided us with a significant legacy. Define the term legacy as something passed down or inherited. Ask students to brainstorm what this legacy might be; e.g., fossil fuels, jobs in the oil and gas industry, tourism opportunities, such as parks, museums and scientific findings.

Activity 7
Ask students to discuss who should own very rare natural resources–the people who find them, the province or others? After some discussion, present students with a scenario: a very rare fossil or an old, sacred artifact has been unearthed in their schoolyard. Who would own it? Suggest several possibilities:

  • the school district that owns the land
  • the student who finds the object
  • ancestors of the people who created it, if it is a human-made object
  • a public museum whose job it is to take care of rare objects
  • other groups.

Ask students to discuss the pros and cons of each option, as a class or in groups, and decide who they think owns it by considering what would be fair to everyone as well as the importance of the object to various groups.

In the debriefing, you may wish to bring in current event articles or stories that illustrate how some museums are returning artifacts to various groups; e.g., objects sacred to the First Nations people, Jewish artifacts taken during the Holocaust. In addition, invite students to share examples of sacred artifacts from their cultural or religious communities and explain why they are valued.

Last updated: July 1, 2014 | (Revision History)
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