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Students not only want to know how old a fossil is, but they want to know how that age was determined.

It wasn't until well into the 20th century that enough information had accumulated about the rate of radioactive decay that the age of rocks and fossils in number of years could be determined through radiometric age dating.

This activity on determining age of rocks and fossils is intended for 8th or 9th grade students.

It is estimated to require four hours of class time, including approximately one hour total of occasional instruction and explanation from the teacher and two hours of group (team) and individual activities by the students, plus one hour of discussion among students within the working groups.

Explore this link for additional information on the topics covered in this lesson: This activity will help students to have a better understanding of the basic principles used to determine the age of rocks and fossils. Objectives of this activity are: 1) To have students determine relative age of a geologically complex area.

2) To familiarize students with the concept of half-life in radioactive decay.

3) To have students see that individual runs of statistical processes are less predictable than the average of many runs (or that runs with relatively small numbers involved are less dependable than runs with many numbers).

4) To demonstrate how the rate of radioactive decay and the buildup of the resulting decay product is used in radiometric dating of rocks. (A single watch or clock for the entire class will do.) 6) Piece of paper marked TIME and indicating either 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 minutes.

5) To use radiometric dating and the principles of determining relative age to show how ages of rocks and fossils can be narrowed even if they cannot be dated radiometrically. 2) Large cup or other container in which M & M's can be shaken. 7) 128 small cards or buttons that may be cut from cardboard or construction paper, preferably with a different color on opposite sides, each marked with "U-235" all on one colored side and "Pb-207" on the opposite side that has some contrasting color.

Return to top Each team of 3 to 5 students should discuss together how to determine the relative age of each of the rock units in the block diagram (Figure 1).

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