Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Say a student found a paper on, "Rotted Wood." What would you do?

"Look, teacher. I want to do my project on rotted wood. I like history and this paper has history."

So, here it is. The student found the paper, "Rotted wood - alga - fungus: the history and life of Prototaxites DAWSON 1859," by Francis M. Hueber.

There might be difficult vocabulary, however, the student interest in this topic will keep him or her motivated. So, what can the student do next and not get discouraged?

Well, a good start is to look at the complete reference and note that down in the project notebook. This helps a student avoid plagiarism and also saves time trying to retrieve references later.

Hueber, Francis M. 2001. Rotted wood - alga - fungus: the history and life of Prototaxites DAWSON 1859. Review of Paleobotany and Palynology. Elsevier. 116:123-158.

At this point, don't worry about the format. Just be sure that all the necessary information to cite is obtained. You can think about style and the citation format to use later. Students should learn, however, that the citation manual is not, "the way my teacher told me to do it." (Author's aside: I have seen so many students coming to college not having heard of style manuals. They come into class and want to do what their prior teacher said without knowing about style manuals.)

Skim the paper and look at the pictures, remembering, "No one knows all the words," (Beinetti, J., 1989. Personal communication). The Beinetti quote is a good one for students to remember to not get discouraged. Continue with the Reach ReadingTM technique. ( For info on this technique, contact me.)

Look at the parts of the paper:

  • Title,
  • Author,
  • Abstract,
  • Introduction,
  • Brief History
  • Materials and Methods,
  • Systematics,
  • Descriptions,
  • Ontogeny of the Sporophore,
  • Discussion,
  • Conclusion,
  • Acknowledgements,
  • References.
Is the student familiar with any of these parts? Does it look like a laboratory report or journal articles on laboratory experiments? Can the student link the format into his or her own knowledge and experience base?

Next, attack new vocabulary. Note that journal articles are special so, treat journals as precious. Don't write in them unless you own them. Use a photocopy to highlight any words not known. Remember, until you have read several journal articles in the same field, you may ave many new words. After reading about five articles, however, one starts to get a handle on the vocabulary.

Pause a moment and reflect. Did you (the student) know that there were plant fossils? Had you seen any before?

Let's look at the opening line in the abstract,"The Devonian flora discovered and collected by W. E. Logan in 1843 remained unstudied until 1855 at which time the collections were offered to J. W. Dawson." Hmmm!

"Devonian flora," a student might ask. Well, here's some information you can find on-line about the Devonian period:


Here is a sample of information you can find at this link.
Near the end of the Devonian period (360 million years ago), some larger and more complicated plants evolved on land too. These were mainly ferns. Some giant ferns were as big as trees, so that a lot of the land now became covered with thick, tall forests of giant ferns and mosses, and even a kind of fungus that could grow eight feet tall. But the very beginnings of plants with seeds, and even flowering plants, were also getting started at the end of the Devonian period. The Devonian period, like the Cambrian and the Silurian, ended with a crisis that killed off most of the plants and animals that were on Earth at that time.

Source: http://www.historyforkids.org/scienceforkids/geology/eras/devonian.htm. Accessed 9-21-2010.
Another online article discusses the Devonian period, giving more information. For example,

fish fossil

The Devonian Period of the Paleozoic Era lasted from 417 million years ago to 354 million years ago. It is named for Devon, England where the old red sandstone of the Devonian was first studied.
Source: http://www.fossils-facts-and-finds.com/devonian_period.html Accessed 9-21-2010.

Compare that to:
Devonian is named for England's Devonshire area where Devonian Outcrops are common. The Devonian follows the Silurian Period and precedes the Mississippian subperiod of the Carboniferous Period.

Source: http://encyclopedia.kids.net.au/page/de/Devonian_period. Accessed 9-21-2010.
A student might ask about, "Outcrops." What are they? How can he or she find out? A Google image search: http://www.google.com/images?q=outcropping%20Devonian&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wi&biw=1280&bih=611 Other ways?

Another quote on plants in the Devonian is shown below:
During the Devonian Period, life on land became abundant and diversified. Plants that emerged during this time period included club mosses, horstails, ferns, mosses, and liverworts. Towards the end of the Devonian, the first amphibians evolved. The earliest known fossil amphibian is Ichthyostega, known by a specimen that was unearthed in eastern Greenland.

Source: http://animals.about.com/od/d/g/devonianperiod.htm
. Accessed 9-21-2010.

Click here to link to a drawing of Devonian plants: http://universe-review.ca/I10-68-Devonian.jpg. Maybe the student would like to do his or her own drawing from verbal descriptions of the plants and then compare their idea(s) to the picture linked in this paragraph.

A student at Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy or other school studying classical languages migh like the sketch of club mosses and the Greek found here:

Source: http://www.palaeos.com/Plants/Lycophytes/index.html
. Accessed 9-21-2010.

Greek keyboard source: http://www.michael-robinett.com/language/greek/alphabet.htm. Accessed 9-21-2010.

A student might go to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prototaxites. Here is a quote on Prototaxites with a chance for a student to make a difference...A citation is needed:
The genus Prototaxites (pronounced /ˌproʊtɵˈtæksɨtiːz/) describes terrestrial organisms known only from fossils dating from the Silu-Devonian, approximately 420 to 370 million years ago. Prototaxites formed large trunk-like structures up to 1 metre (3 ft) wide, reaching 8 metres (26 ft) in height,[1] made up of interwoven tubes just 50 micrometres (0.0020 in) in diameter. Whilst traditionally very difficult to assign to an extant group of organisms, current opinion is converging to a fungal placement for the genus. It might have had an algal symbiont, which would make it a lichen rather than a fungus in the strict sense.[citation needed]

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prototaxites. Accessed: 9-1-2010.

Note that the first cited article on the Wikipedia post is:
1. ^ a b c d Boyce, K.C.; Hotton, C.L.; Fogel, M.L.; Cody, G.D.; Hazen, R.M.; Knoll, A.H.; Hueber, F.M. (May 2007). "Devonian landscape heterogeneity recorded by a giant fungus" (PDF). Geology 35 (5): 399–402. doi:10.1130/G23384A.1. http://geology.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/reprint/35/5/399.pdf.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prototaxites. Accessed: 9-1-2010.

See the name, "Hueber, F. M.?" Are you familiar with that name from the first article discussed in he blog?

Let's look at another quote from Dr. Hueber's article:
Among the fossil plants that were collected by W. E. Logan along the shores of Gaspe [I have to go find the accent for the e---Dr. J] Bay (1843), the most enigmatic specimen resembled a fragment of a small tree.

Source: Hueber, Francis M. 2001. Rotted wood - alga - fungus: the history and life of Prototaxites DAWSON 1859. Review of Paleobotany and Palynology. Elsevier. 116:123-158.
A student might wonder about the meaning of, "enigmatic," and perhaps about what W.E. Logan looked like, and/or where is Gaspe Bay.

Enigmatic...let's check a hard-cover dictionary or get an on-line definition. The student can do that already and should be encouraged to. If he or she hasn't been exposed to dictionary or computer use yet, however, it would be worth introducing them.

W. F. Logan: Here's a link to some information on him. http://ess.nrcan.gc.ca/esic/llf/collection_e.php. There one can find a short biography of anecdotes on Logan's life. You can enjoy that so much and feel like going in another direction (Stigmaria underlining every seam of coal leading to a new idea about where coal comes from). In fact, the student who likes history, from the beginning of this post, might enjoy taking that diversion and incorporating it into his or her project. But, to get back to Logan and the rotted-wood-alga-fungus story, I haven't found Logan's picture yet. Aha!


We haven't even got into the heart of Francis M. Hueber's article yet and already there are so many fascinating ideas to capture students' attention(s).

Let's look further. Try your hand at reading the article and we'll come back to it later. Note that we can also find related articles. For example, here is a quote from and a reference to a related article: "Since the first fossil of Prototaxites was described in 1859, researchers have hypothesized that these organisms were giant algae, , or lichens. A recent study by Dr. Linda Graham and her colleagues published evidence in the February issue of the that they believe resolves this long-standing mystery," (Source: http://www.physorg.com/news185022458.html. Accessed 9-21-2010.) [See the original article at: http://www.amjbot.org/cgi/content/full/97/2/268: Structural, physiological, and stable carbon isotopic evidence that the enigmatic [emphasis Dr. J's]...
Graham et al. Am. J. Bot..2010; 97: 268-275
Can you guess what the organism is thought to be?

Science Literacy Comments:
Elementary, middle and high school students benefit from the exposure to journal articles. College, university, including both undergraduate and graduate students, benefit from bridging up to the technical level of reading.

(c) 2010 J S Shipman. All rights reserved.

---to be continued---(in another post, on another day)

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