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As an introduction to vertebrate skeletal material, students work individually through a series of stations displaying isolated bones and teeth. Associated with each station are two to six short-answer questions that ask the students to identify, orient, and taxonomically classify the specimens, and to describe the rationale for their answers. Students must respond to every question. Even if they have no prior course experience with vertebrate anatomy, they are required to propose and defend an answer, based on careful observation, "common sense," and relevant personal experience. After the students have worked through the stations and answered all the questions, instructor and class discuss the samples and student interpretations. This activity is deliberately designed to force students to work outside of their comfort zone. In the exercise and discussion, students are required to employ careful and reasoned observation in developing hypotheses concerning the identities of the samples, and to defend those hypotheses based on physical characteristics of the bones. The point of the exercise is not to identify the specimens correctly (although students often do better than they expect), but to demonstrate that skeletal anatomy makes "sense", and that thoughtful reasoning based on solid evidence is key to interpreting skeletal remains.
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