GEOL 104 Dinosaurs: A Natural History

Fall Semester 2019

The latest Cretaceous dinosaurs Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, Thescelosaurus, and Edmontosaurus, at the updated "Deep Time" Hall of the National Museum of Natural History, in June 2019

Plant Sciences Building (036 PLS) 1130 10:00-10:50 am MWF

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.

Course Description: Dinosaurs, their evolution, and our understanding of their fossil record. Students will examine the geologic record and the tools used by paleontologists to determine: geologic ages and ancient environments; evolutionary history and extinctions; dinosaurian biology and behavior; and their survival as birds. Mechanisms of global change ranging from plate tectonics to asteroid impact will be discussed.

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 extinctions of dinosaurs and the other inhabitants of their world. We will explore several big themes:

Textbook: No required textbook for purchase. However, please keep current with the online lecture notes.

Course Organization: 3 meetings per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday).

Item Percentage
Midterm Exam I 25%
Midterm Exam II 25%
Final Exam 25%
Online Quizzes 14%
Smithsonian Self-Guided Field Trip Project 10%
Pre-/Post-Course Survey 1%

NOTE: Online quizzes, the Smithsonian Field Trip project, and the Pre- and Post-Course surveys cannot be completed for a grade after their regularly assigned due date passes.

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.

Midterm Exams (25%): Two pen-and-paper exams are scheduled for this course. They combine true/false, multiple choice, matching, identification, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and short essay questions. They are held during regular lecture periods. The dates for these exams are September 27 and November 4. Absences from exams will not be excused except for those causes approved by University policy (see Office of Undergraduate Studies Course Related Policies page, under "Attendance, Absences, or Missed Assignments"). Only those students excused for these causes will be eligible for a make-up exam.

Final Exam (25%): The final exam has a similar format to the mid-term exams. It is cumulative for the entire course, but with a special emphasis on the material since the second exam. NOTE: This exam is on Tuesday, December 18. Please plan your winter schedule accordingly!! Again, absences from exams will not be excused except for those causes approved by University policy in the University of Maryland Undergraduate Catalog). Only those students excused for these causes will be eligible for a make-up exam.

Online Quizzes (14% total): There will be a series of online quizzes, administered through ELMS, throughout the course. For each of these you will have between 11 am two days before they are due until 11:55 pm the day they are due in which to complete them. These quizzes will be open-note, but they ARE subject to the Honor Pledge: you may not seek help from other people in doing these. The order in which the questions are asked, and the order of the answers are randomized, so no two student's quizzes will be identical. The lowest quiz grade will be automatically dropped; if you miss a quiz for any reason, it will be accommodated in this fashion. However, only one quiz at most will be dropped.

Smithsonian Self-Guided Field Trip Report (10%): To take advantage of our proximity to the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History and its excellent display of fossil materials, there is a small assignment requiring you to go to that museum and answer a series of questions based on your observations. There is no single formal field trip; you may go on your own or in small groups. The project is due online NOVEMBER 12.

Pre-/Post-Course Survey (1% total): In order to effectively assess the learning in the course, an online pre-course survey will be administered in the first week of class, followed by a post-course survey during the last week. You will not be graded on the specific answers on these surveys, but you will be graded for participating in the survey.

Extra Credit: No separate extra credit assignments as such planned for this course, although individual exams and homework assignments may have extra credit questions which add up in the final course grade.


Expectations and Policies

Expectations & Attendance:
Attendance in lecture is expected. The PowerPoints will not be provided to students, although there are detailed lecture notes online. If you cannot make a certain lecture, try and find another student who might lend you their notes. (In fact, establishing a study group early in the course has proven useful for many students in the past). If you want to achieve a good grade in the course, the time to start working towards that is from the very beginning! Keep up with the material as it is presented rather than "cramming" to study it right before exams.

NOTE: Attendance means more than mere presence: it means "paying attention". Please take out your ear buds and refrain from texting/web-browsing/doing homework/etc. in class and in lab.

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.

General Policies:
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.

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 © 2019 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.

    Dinosaur exhibits at the National Museum of Natural History, prior to 2019 revision