HONR 259C "Fearfully Great Lizards": Topics in Dinosaur Research

Fall Semester 2017
Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins' 1854 reconstructions of the first recognized dinosaurs (Iguanodon (left and center front), Hylaeosaurus (center rear), and Megalosaurus (right)), on display at Crystal Palace Park, Bromley, London

Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center (ESJ 226) B0320 12:30-1:45 pm TTh

Instructor: Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Room: Geology Building (237 GEO) 4106
Office Hours: Thurs 8:30-11 am, or by appointment
Phone: (301) 405-4084, Email:

NOTE: It is your responsibility as a student to completely read through and understand this syllabus. If you have questions about it, please contact Dr. Holtz. You will be held responsible for following all requirements of this syllabus.

Learning Outcomes: By the end of the semester, every student should be able to:

Themes: This course examines how scientists study the age, environments, evolution, origin, biology, behavior, and extinction of dinosaurs and the other inhabitants of their world. Over this time we will explore several big themes:

Textbook: No required textbook for purchase. However, please keep current with the online lecture notes. In addition, each student will be responsible for a series of five (5) readings from the primary technical literature. Copies of these papers will be provided by on ELMS. Furthermore, the students will screen a scientific documentary concerning dinosaur research to critically evaluate: these will be provided via ELMS.

Course Organization: 2 meetings per week (Tuesday, Thursday).

Field Trip: 1 field trip to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia is planned for November 4. (If a student is unable to make this trip, an alternative self-guided tour of the "Last American Dinosaurs" exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History will be provided).

Item Percentage
Six (6) Critical Reviews 5% each for total of 30%
Six (6) In-class Small Group Projects 5% each for total of 30%
Mid-term Exam 15%
Final Exam 15%
Field Trip Report 5%
General Discussion/Participation 5%

All students who participate in the group receive the same grade for that small group project.

Grade Scale: The numbers given represent the thresholds that must be passed in order to reach that grade (for example, A+ is 97.000... and any number greater). There is no rounding for letter grades; the thresholds must be passed. F is any grade below D-. Thresholds: 97, A+; 93, A; 90, A-; 87, B+; 83, B; 80, B-; 77, C+; 73, C; 70, C-; 67, D+; 63, D; 60, D-; < 60, F.

The Final Grade is the algebraic sum based on the numerical grades.

Critical Reviews: A primary focus of this course is understanding the scientific process by means of examining the primary literature: technical papers from scientific journals. At five points during the semester, each student will be randomly assigned one of four or five papers on a given topic. They will be responsible for reading and understanding that paper, and writing a brief report (submitted via ELMS) concerning the methods, materials, and conclusions of that analysis. The sixth critical review will involve viewing one of five different documentaries about dinosaur paleontology rather than reading a technical paper. Critical reviews must be completed by class time the day they are due: you will be using that information for the in-class small group project.

In-class Small Group Projects: During six of the lecture sessions, the class times will be devoted to small group discussions and projects. There will be a graded assignment turned in at the end of class. These projects will involve comparison of responses to the critical reviews as well as interpretation of new information provided.

Midterm and Final Exam: One mid-term and one final exam are scheduled for this course. They combine true/false, multiple choice, matching, identification, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and short essay questions. The midterm is held during regular lecture period on October 12; the final is on Monday, December 18. (Please plan your winter schedule accordingly!!) Absences from exams will not be excused except for those causes approved by University policy (under "Attendance, Absences, or Missed Assignments"). Only those students excused for these causes will be eligible for a make-up exam.

Field Trip Report: There will be a brief report to turn in based on your observations at the Academy of Natural Sciences field trip. (Or, for those who are unable to go, a separate report based on a self-guided trip to the "Last American Dinosaurs" gallery at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.) Field trip reports are due October 31.

General Discussion/Participation: As this is an Honors Seminar, all students are expected to attend every course meeting and be an active participant when appropriate. In some classes, there may be interactive activities or discussions. A default grade of 5 will be given for every class a student attends. They may be awarded up to 2 more points as extra credit for particularly helpful or effective participation in the. Students who are present for all discussion sections but are non-participants or are disruptive may be docked up to 2 and 4 points (respectively) at the instructor’s discretion.

While the expectation is that students attend EVERY class, it is recognized that occasionally conditions (accident, illness, etc.) arise that prevent such. To recognize that, every student is allowed two (2) absences in class without penalty, so long as:

  1. It is not the date of a In-class Small Class Project.
  2. They inform Dr. Holtz by email (beforehand if at all possible), or certainly by the end of that same day that they will be/were absent and the reason for that absence.
Should these conditions not be met, the students will receive a 0 for the grade for the discussion/participation for that day. Additionally, if there are more than two absences the student will receive a 0 for the grade each additional class time missed.

If there is a medical condition or other extraordinary circumstance that does require missing more than 2 class meetings--or missing the date of an In-class Small Group Project--the student must provide written documentation from the appropriate sort of official (health professional; court official; etc.) explaining the absence.

Course Evaluations: CourseEvalUM will be open for students to complete their evaluations for Fall courses during the last two weeks of the semester. Students can access CourseEvalUM through ELMS to complete their evaluations. You will be alerted about these dates and provided more information closer to that time, and students will be alerted via their official University e-mail account.


The University has provided a page on Academic policies here. Each student is responsible for reviewing this page with regards to issues of Academic Integrity; the Code of Student Conduct; Sexual Misconduct; Discrimination; Accessibility; Attendance, Absences, or Missed Assignments; Student Rights Regarding Undergraduate Courses; Official UMD Communication; Mid-Term Grades; Complaints About Course Final Grades; Copyright and Intellectual Property; Final Exams and Course Evaluations; and Campus Resources. For specifics with regards to this course, see the following:

Laptop/Tablet/Smartphone Use: Recent studies have shown that:

Towards this end, I very strongly encourage you to take notes via pencil/pen and paper. It is in your academic benefit to do this.

If you choose to take notes using a computer, you are agreeing to the following conditions:

When not in use, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and all other modes of electronic communication must be turned off and stowed away during class and discussion time. (NOTE: using your smartphone between your legs underneath the desk is NOT "stowed away", and you aren't and have never fooled a teacher or instructor when you try that...) If you are using the device for recording lectures, please activate them then leave them untouched for the remainder of the lecture.

That said, there may be some group activities in which we will use individual laptops/tablets/smartphones in class. Dr. Holtz will make every effort to inform you about this in advance. However, in those situations you may only use these devices for the task at hand.

Attendance in class is expected, especially as the group projects require your presence. If for some reason you cannot make a certain lecture, try and find another student who might lend your their notes. (In fact, establishing a study group early in the course has proven useful for many students in the past).

Communication in this course will primarily be by means of the ELMS Inbox email system. In cases of inclement weather or other unexpected emergencies, the University may close. Please consult the University main webpage or call 301-405-7669 (SNOW) to confirm such cancellations. Dr. Holtz will contact students via ELMS in order to inform them concerning delays of due dates for projects to be handed in or for exams: typically these will be shifted until the next available class date.

NOTE: As part of the nature of the course, there will be a lot of memorization (less than a foreign language class, but more than that found in more mathematically-oriented introductory science classes). This will include lots of anatomical, geological, and paleontological terms, as well as evolutionary and temporal relationships. If you have difficulty memorizing, this may not be the class for you. Also, if there are words or concepts with which you are not familiar, feel free to ask Dr. Holtz (in class, after class, over email, etc.) for an explanation or clarification.

Copyright © 2017 Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. as to this syllabus, all lectures, and all written material provided in this course. Students are prohibited from copying and selling course materials, from selling lecture notes, and from being paid to take lecture notes without the express written permission of the professor teaching this course. Violations of this prohibition will be treated as violations of the University Honors Code and reported and dealt with accordingly.

  • Lecture Notes

    For a formatted printable copy of the complete syllabus, click here.

    Last modified: 15 August 2017

    Detail from Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins' "Jurassic Life of Europe" (1877), currently in Guyot Hall, Department of Geosciences, Princeton University