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.
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).
After students have decided how to establish the relative age of each rock unit, they should list them under the block, from most recent at the top of the list to oldest at the bottom.The teacher should tell the students that there are two basic principles used by geologists to determine the sequence of ages of rocks. Students not only want to know how old a fossil is, but they want to know how that age was determined.Some very straightforward principles are used to determine the age of fossils.Students should be able to understand the principles and have that as a background so that age determinations by paleontologists and geologists don't seem like black magic. Geologists in the late 18th and early 19th century studied rock layers and the fossils in them to determine relative age.William Smith was one of the most important scientists from this time who helped to develop knowledge of the succession of different fossils by studying their distribution through the sequence of sedimentary rocks in southern England.