Using Rock Swaps to Teach About Geographic Diversity

A unit on rocks and minerals in the elementary classroom provides an excellent opportunity for students to get out into their local community and learn more about its characteristics. Whether students collect rocks at home or on a class field trip, beginning with local specimens is an engaging and concrete way to start. In addition, a simple overview of your region’s geologic history (through a web site, book, or guest speaker such as a park ranger or geologist) will help introduce the types of rock and processes of rock formation. With guidance and explicit instruction, students will begin to connect the rocks they find to their environment and its history.

Once students have a firm footing in local geology, it is time to think on a larger scale. One way to do this is to organize a rock swap between classrooms. In a rock swap, students collect, describe, and classify local rocks. Teachers wrap the specimens and mail them to the other classes in the swap. In return, the class receives rocks from the other participants.

Once the new rocks arrive, students can compare and contrast their local rocks with the ones sent from other locations. Are there similar specimens? New and unfamiliar ones? With assistance, students can make connections between the samples and the geologic history of that area. For example, a class receiving igneous rock samples from the Northwest might discuss the volcanic activity of the region.

This type of collaborative activity promotes not only geologic understanding but geographic understanding as well. Rock swaps can fulfill Standard 7 of the National Geography Standards, which focuses on the physical processes that shape the patterns of earth’s surface.

The activity can be extended in other ways as well. Asking students to plot the locations of participating classes helps develop map skills. Learning more about each location sets a real purpose for reading, writing, and discussion. Art could be incorporated through drawing or painting the specimens. Email or letter exchanges can allow classes to ask follow-up questions about the samples. Collecting the local rocks can spur a simple discussion about the nature of sampling, as described in the lesson plan Sampling Rocks.

Finally, a rock swap can include specimens from Antarctica! The United States Polar Rock Repository at the Byrd Polar Research Center in Columbus, Ohio, loans rocks to schools in the United States. A Rock Box includes rocks and fossils from Antarctica, a teacher’s guide, and a variety of other materials. Teachers pay a $50 deposit for the box (refundable if the box is returned with all items in their original condition) and can keep the box for 21 days. This is an engaging way to incorporate polar science into your geology unit!


Rock Swap
Teachers may copy and use this project template to post on educational listservs. Suggestions on where you can post and announce your call for collaboration can be found at the end of the page.

United States Polar Rock Repository: Educational Outreach
The educational outreach page of the repository includes information on requesting and borrowing a polar rock box. Other features include activities for parents and educators, a kids’ space, and a virtual tour of the repository.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *