Rocks and Minerals: 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 Rocks and Minerals 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 of study was developed to provide students with opportunities to examine rocks and make observations about them. It uses text and inquiry to help students develop an understanding of the rocks and their characteristics, the concept of a scientific sample, and the ability to take measurements and make detailed observations.


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
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Earth and Space Science (Grades K-4)

  • Properties of earth materials

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 issues and interests.

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 Rocks in His Head by James Stevenson (from this issue’s Virtual Bookshelf) aloud to the class. Ask students if they have ever looked at rocks or collected them. (Students may want to bring in rocks from home, so this conversation might span several days.) Engage students in conversations that will elicit and activate their prior knowledge and prompt them to ask questions about rocks. You may wish to record student questions or begin a class KWL or KLEW chart.

Next, read a nonfiction book to the class, such as Let’s Look at Rocks or Rock Basics from the Virtual Bookshelf. If you have multiple copies of a book (or several similar books), you might choose to have students read individually or small groups of students share them. Tell the students that they are going to learn how to make careful observations of rocks.

Explore

Begin this phase of the unit by asking students to brainstorm all of the places they might look for rocks. Make sure that the conversation includes the schoolyard (or other nearby location) in which you will hunt for rocks. Set the purpose for the lesson using the “Motivation” section of the lesson Sampling Rocks.

Next, students collect rocks from the schoolyard (or other desired location). When students return to the classroom, use the “Development” section of Sampling Rocks to help them group, measure, and observe their rocks. You may wish to refer to the related lesson Rock Hunters to ensure that students make careful and rich observations. The lesson How Does My Garden Grow? Writing in Science Field Journals provides guidance in using field journals, which may help students keep track of observations and measurements.

Note: We recommend following the “Development” procedure found in Sampling Rocks until you ask students the following question:

What can we learn about the rocks on the playground by looking at this collection of rocks? Do we need more information? Why or why not?

While the “Development” portion of the Sampling Rocks lesson continues with a read aloud of Everybody Needs a Rock and an activity, we recommend saving this portion for the Expand phase of the unit.

If you began a KWL or KLEW chart during the Engage phase, ask students to revisit it now. This can provide support to students as they create the class book during the Explain phase.

Explain

For this phase of the unit, use the “Assessment” portion of the Sampling Rocks lesson to create a class guide to the rocks found in the schoolyard (or alternate location). There are many possibilities for organizing the book. Each student might create a page about a rock that he or she found, including measurements, observations, and drawings. Pages that compare rocks (for the darkest/lightest/biggest/heaviest) might be created by students, or generated as a class. Students might also write descriptive clues on the front of their page and then include a picture of their rock on the back (as described in the lesson Using Children’s Natural Curiosity to Lead to Descriptive Writing). Alternatively, teachers could incorporate technology and have students contribute to a class blog, video, VoiceThread, or PowerPoint presentation instead of a book.

Expand

Ideally, the content covered during this phase emerges from student questions and interests that arise during the unit. Some possibilities include:

  • Use the second half of the “Development” portion of the lesson Sampling Rocks. Read Everybody Needs a Rock (from the Virtual Bookshelf), explore the concept of sampling, and return to the schoolyard so students can find their “just right” rock (as described in the book).
  • Explore descriptive language by reading If You Find a Rock or On My Beach There Are Many Pebbles (from the Virtual Bookshelf). Have students brainstorm descriptions or creative uses for the rocks they found during the Explore phase of the unit. Note: To promote scientific accuracy, we recommend separating creative writing activities from making scientific observations. For more information, please see Common Misconceptions about Rocks and Minerals.
  • Explore the idea that rocks can teach scientists about what Earth was like long ago. Read the Grades K-1 version of this month’s Feature Story or The Big Rock (from the Virtual Bookshelf). Bring in rocks that contain fossils, layers, or other unusual characteristics, and ask students to think about the history behind them.

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.
  • Ongoing completion of the KLEW chart will allow teachers to modify the unit accordingly.
  • If you choose to use field journals during the Explore phase, they can serve as an additional source of formative assessment.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment occurs during the Explain phase, as students work on the class book (or similar technology project). Student work can be assessed using a rubric.


GRADES 3-5 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit of study was developed to provide students with multiple opportunities to investigate rocks. It uses multigenre nonfiction text and inquiry to develop a basic understanding of geology while answering the essential question: How do scientists classify rocks?


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
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Earth and Space Science

  • Properties of earth materials (Grades K-4)
  • Earth’s history (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 issues and interests.

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 the first 11 pages of Let’s Go Rock Collecting (from the Virtual Bookshelf) to introduce students to rocks and rock collecting. Use the text and the conversation around it to introduce the rock classification activity.

Rock Classification

Ask students to bring in rocks from home, or allow them to collect rocks from the schoolyard. Each student should first select one rock, draw a picture, and write a short description of the rock. Students will then work in groups to develop a classification scheme for their rocks. This open-ended activity will provide insight into students’ prior knowledge of geology. Asking students to explain how and why they developed their classification scheme orally or in writing will extend the value of the activity. See Common Misconceptions about Rocks and Minerals for more information about how student misconceptions and prior knowledge can impact a formal geology unit.

Next, read Reader of the Rocks (this month’s Feature Story) with the class. (You may choose to print and photocopy the story as text-only or as an illustrated book to share with individual students, or you may use the electronic book version in a computer lab or on an interactive whiteboard.) After students read and discuss the article, ask if they know how scientists (geologists) classify rocks. Record student responses on chart paper, or start a KWL or KLEW chart on the topic.

Explore

Idea Circle

Assign students to small groups, and allow each student to select a book about rocks and minerals. (Within a small group, each student should ideally have a different book.) Students read to answer the focus question (How do scientists classify rocks?) and discuss their findings with their group.

Sample Idea Circle texts
Find these titles (and others) in the Virtual Bookshelf.
Let’s Go Rock Collecting
by Roma Gans
Rocks
by Sally M. Walker
Rocks and Minerals
by Ann O. Squire
Geologists
by Heather Hammonds

Groups complete an idea circle graphic organizer. Discuss findings as a class, adding information to the chart (or KLW chart) that was used to record student ideas in the Engage phase of the unit. At the end of the idea circle, students should be familiar with the three types of rocks (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic) and some of the basic differences between them. See The Basics of Rocks and Minerals and Polar Geology if you need a quick refresher yourself!

Next, provide time for students to explore the web site Rock Hounds with Rocky. Focus student attention on the Rock Creations page, which includes animations that explain how sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks are formed, and the Become a Rock Expert page, which includes pictures and descriptions of common rock types. Again, provide time for students to clarify and revise their thinking on the class chart.

Minerals

Some of the texts used in the idea circle may also have introduced the concept of minerals to students. Devote some time to learning about minerals and how they are identified. Lessons 2 and 3 in Minerals, Crystals, and Gems: Stepping-Stones to Inquiry provide an introduction to the crystalline structure of minerals and their everyday uses. Depending on the needs of your students, you might want to introduce them to the properties of minerals and how they are used by scientists to aid classification. If possible, allow students to examine mineral specimens, test for hardness with a streak plate, describe the mineral’s luster, and so forth. Provide time for students to clarify and revise their thinking on the class chart.

Examining Rocks

The lesson Rock Cookies provides an opportunity for students to simulate the three types of rocks as well as the mineral composition of rocks with cookies (prepared by the teacher or by the students). Allow students to revisit and revise the class chart one last time.

Explain

Have students revisit the rocks they classified in the Engage phase of the unit. Ask them to reclassify them using what they’ve learned about how scientists classify rocks. You may choose to have students work independently, or as a group. Each student should explain the rationale behind the classification scheme, either orally or in writing. Students should also have access to the texts from the idea circle, any materials used in the Explore phase, and the class chart.

You might expand this assignment by having students create a rock and mineral exhibit as described in this lesson from Smithsonian Education. The book Rocks in His Head (from this month’s Virtual Bookshelf) pairs nicely with the concept of creating an exhibit.

Expand

Ideally, the content covered during this phase emerges from student questions and interests that arise during the unit. Some possibilities include:

  • Examine rocks from other locations across the country or world. Organize a rock swap, or borrow an Antarctic rock box from the U.S. Polar Rock Repository.
  • Investigate the rock cycle. While the underlying concepts of plate tectonics are beyond the expectations for elementary students, advanced students may be able to begin to learn about this topic.
  • Learn more about the discipline of geology. Read books on the subject (such as the ones mentioned in the Virtual Bookshelf) or invite a geologist to speak to the class about his or her work.
  • Study weathering and erosion using resources from Issue 9: Earth’s Changing Surface.

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Observation of groups’ classification of the rocks in the Engage phase will provide insight into students’ prior knowledge and misconceptions about geology.
  • Student and group participation in the idea circle will allow teachers to monitor progress.
  • Ongoing completion of the KLEW chart will allow teachers to modify the unit accordingly.

Summative Assessment

Students’ rationale for their reclassification of the rocks in the Explain phase can be assessed for understanding of the three types of rocks and the difference between rocks and minerals. Content knowledge can be assessed using a teacher-created rubric.


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

Copyright September 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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