Earth's Changing Surface: Unit Outlines

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of content in this issue of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears? Not sure where to begin? We’ve created unit outlines for Grades K-2 and 3-5 using some of the resources found in the Earth’s Changing Surface issue. Rather than a prescriptive unit, the outlines are intended to spark your creativity and help you integrate these resources into your own particular teaching situation.

The unit outlines follow the 5E Learning Cycle model – engage, explore, explain, expand, evaluate.

Have another idea for a Learning from the Polar Past unit? Share it with us – and other teachers – by leaving a comment below!

GRADES K-2 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit is designed to provide primary students the opportunity to investigate volcanoes. It uses text and hands-on experiences to develop a basic understanding of the characteristics of volcanoes, as well as the various shapes and locations of volcanoes around the world.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4)

  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Earth and Space Science (Grades K-4)

  • Changes in the Earth and sky

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 - Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

3 - Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

4 - Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

5 - Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

8 - Students use a variety of technological and information resources to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

11 - Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 - Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


Unit Outline

Engage

Read and discuss Mt. Erebus: A Surprising Volcano. This informational text, about the world’s southernmost active volcano, is available in three forms (text-only, illustrated book, and electronic book) and at reading levels appropriate for students in Grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5. Ask students to share what they know about volcanoes, and what questions they have. A KWL chart (or one its variations) can be used to record the class’s ideas and wonderings.

Explore

Use the procedure outlined in the activity Modeling Volcanoes to create a model of a volcano using gelatin and colored water. Invite students to observe how the magma (represented by the colored water) moves inside the volcano. Cut the volcano in half to produce a cross section, and compare this to the drawings found in children’s books and on web sites about volcanoes.

Watch video clips and look at pictures of volcanoes. The article Watch, Listen, and Learn: Online Multimedia Resources on Earthquakes and Volcanoes includes several video clips of volcanic eruptions. The Photo Archives page of the U. S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory offers many pictures. You may wish to print out pictures of volcanoes and have students sort the volcanoes by shape, or have older students mark their locations on a world map. Update the KWL chart as needed.

Explain

Read and discuss Hill of Fire and Volcanoes, two titles described in our virtual bookshelf. These books, as well as any others that might be available in your school or public library, will help students deepen and extend the knowledge they gained from the modeling activities, video clips, and images of volcanoes during the Explore phase. The instructional plan described in Session One of the lesson Adventures in Nonfiction: A Guided Inquiry Journey can help students maximize the benefit of reading nonfiction texts and conducting Internet searches.

Next, create a class question and answer book on volcanoes for the classroom library. Each student will contribute one page to the book. Procedures for creating question and answer books can be found in Session Three of Adventures in Nonfiction: A Guided Inquiry Journey or in the lesson Creating Question and Answer Books through Guided Research.

Expand

Ideally, student interests and questions drive this phase of the unit. One possibility is to investigate earthquakes. The article Hands-On Science and Literacy Activities about Erosion, Volcanoes, and Earthquakes includes several lessons about earthquakes appropriate for primary students.

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for both formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Observation of students’ participation in class activities throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding and engagement with the topic.
  • Student discussion throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding of the science concepts.

Summative Assessment

Students’ pages for the class question and answer book serve as summative assessment for the unit. Student work can be assessed with a rubric that includes criteria for scientific accuracy, use of vocabulary, and overall quality of work.


GRADES 3-5 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit was designed to provide elementary students opportunities to investigate volcanoes. Students will use text and hands-on experiences to develop an understanding of how volcanoes form, what the interior of a volcano looks like, and why the shapes and eruptions of volcanoes vary. They will also examine the locations of volcanoes around the world and identify patterns in the data.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4 and 5-8)

  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Earth and Space Science

  • Changes in the Earth and sky (Grades K-4)
  • Structure of the earth system (Grades 5-8)

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 - Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

3 - Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

4 - Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

5 - Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

7 – Students conduct research on interests and issues.

8 - Students use a variety of technological and information resources to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

11 - Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 - Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


Unit Outline

Engage

Introduce the topic of volcanoes by viewing the video Violent Volcanoes (1:14 min.) from National Geographic. The video is a selection of volcano photos taken worldwide. If you can’t view this video at school, you can achieve the same purpose by providing a variety of images for students to view or picture walking through a book about volcanoes (such as the ones listed in our virtual bookshelf). Conversation around the pictures should draw on students’ prior knowledge and wonderings. A KWL chart (or one of its variations) can be used to capture prior knowledge and questions about volcanoes. The formative assessment probe Where Are the Volcanoes? is designed to elicit student ideas about volcanoes around the world.

Explore

Begin this phase by creating a model of a volcano using the procedure described in Gelatin Volcanoes (note: advance preparation is required). Discuss how magma moves inside a volcano and forms dikes. Create a cross section by slicing through the gelatin, and invite students to observe from the side. Compare what students see in the gelatin model to cross-section diagrams of volcanoes found in children’s nonfiction books and on web sites. Invite students to draw their own cross-section diagrams in their science notebooks, labeling the parts of a volcano.

Next, show students video clips of volcanic eruptions around the world. You can find several clips in the article Watch, Listen, and Learn: Online Multimedia Resources on Earthquakes and Volcanoes. The U. S. Geological Survey’s web site also includes a page dedicated to volcano webcams across the United States and around the world. Students should discuss the videos and note their observations. They should notice that not all volcanoes have the same shape and that not all explosions look the same. Guide students to pose the question Why do volcanoes have different shapes and different types of explosions? if they do not pose it themselves.

Explain to students that the thickness of the lava and the amount of gas dissolved in the lava determine the type of eruption, and indirectly, the shape of the volcano. In the lesson Explosive or Effusive, students explore lava chemistry and infer how it determines the type of volcanic eruption. Next, extend the concept to include the shapes of volcanoes with the interactive activity Forces of Nature from National Geographic (select the volcano icon and then the “Build Your Own Volcano” link). In this activity (which would work well on an interactive white board), students select the level of dissolved gases and silica content, then observe the volcano erupting. The activity also introduces the four types of volcanoes: shield, cinder cone, composite, and lava dome.

Finally, provide a number of images of volcanoes (find a selection at the U. S. Geological Survey’s CVO Photo Archives) and ask students to sort them by volcano type. Or, use the lesson Volcano Types, in which students research a list of volcanoes and indicate the type of volcano and location for each.

Explain

Begin this phase of the unit by reading and discussing Why Do Volcanoes Blow Their Tops? Questions and Answers about Volcanoes and Earthquakes by Melvin and Gilda Berger (from our virtual bookshelf). Younger students might also appreciate Volcanoes by Franklyn M. Branley. These titles (as well as other books about volcanoes recommended by your librarian) will confirm and extend what students learned about volcanoes during the Explore phase.

Next, ask students if they think there are volcanoes in Antarctica. Introduce Mt. Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano, located on Ross Island, Antarctica. Read The Heart of Erebus, our informational text about the volcano, with students. The text is available in three forms (text-only, illustrated book, and electronic book) and at reading levels appropriate for students in Grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5. You can also use a reading strategy template, called F.A.C.T. It, in conjunction with the text to provide an opportunity for students to practice identifying facts, asking questions, making connections, and reflecting on the article. For more information on the F.A.C.T. It template, please see the article Getting Students Engaged in Nonfiction Text.

Finally, assign each student a volcano from any part of the world. The lesson Volcano Types suggests 12 volcanoes for research and provides a worldwide list of volcanoes by name. Students should research their volcano and write a paragraph or two describing the volcano’s location, shape and type, and history of eruptions. Students should also draw a picture of their volcano.

Post a large world map on the wall or a bulletin board and invite students to place their pictures and descriptions of their volcanoes in the appropriate locations. Once all students have posted their work, step back and examine the locations of volcanoes worldwide. Do students notice any patterns in the locations of volcanoes across the world?

Expand

In this phase, it may be appropriate to introduce the concepts of Earth’s tectonic plates and the Ring of Fire. Show students images of both, and ask them to compare them to the patterns they observed at the end of the Explain phase. Please note that the theory of plate tectonics is complex and beyond the scope of the elementary curriculum. However, we feel that a brief introduction to explain why volcanoes are located in certain places is in keeping with the purpose of the unit.

Students may be interested in learning more about Earth’s interior and where the magma in volcanoes comes from. Our podcast A Walk Through the Earth: Volcanoes and Earthquakes provides a hands-on, “feet-on” way of teaching about volcanoes and the layers of the Earth. The Expand phase is also an ideal time to move into the study of earthquakes. Please see the article Hands-On Science and Literacy Activities about Erosion, Volcanoes, and Earthquakes for lesson plans and teaching ideas.

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Observation of students’ participation in class activities throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding and engagement with the topic.
  • Student discussion throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding of the science concepts.
  • Student completion of the F.A.C.T. It template will provide insight into their current understanding of the science concepts and text and their ability to apply the reading strategies of identifying facts, asking questions, making connections, and reflecting on the text.

Summative Assessment

Student descriptions and pictures of their volcanoes serve as summative assessment for the unit. Student work can be assessed with a rubric that includes criteria for scientific accuracy, use of vocabulary, and overall quality of work.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright December 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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