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Class ideas for teaching volcanoes, plate tectonics and natural processes

Class 3For World Book Day last week I was in Settle School, building a planet with Year 3.

We started with tiny pieces of modelling clay. They represented dust in orbit around the Sun as the Solar System formed. Each piece was stuck to the other until we had a small lump. We then stuck ten small lumps together to make a larger lump then ten larger lumps and so on until we realized how electrostatic forces and gravity worked on rock to make the planet we stood on.

Next we thought about volcanoes which punched through the planet surface and made a traditional model with vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. As the model exploded and oozed its red ‘lava’ the children talked about volcanoes today and one said “If volcanoes send out so much rock why is the planet not getting bigger?’ A question perhaps worthy of those asked in the seventeenth century when the Royal Society was established?

After comparing the inside of a hard boiled egg to the inside of the Earth and observing how the cracked egg shell looked like tectonic plates we investigated what happened when plates collided by crashing two towels together and seeing ‘mountains’ rise.

Sugar cube mountainSugar cube mountain

This led on to landscapes and as Settle is in limestone country we built model limestone mountains out of sugar cubes. We talked about weathering and decided to rain on the mountains with spoons of water. In time this produced pot holes on the top, caves in the side and eventually some caves collapsed to produce gorges – all features of the landscape around the town.

Investigating rocksFinally I pointed out that there are other rocks not far away called millstone grit that I had brought from the neighbouring county. It wasn’t long before a fair test was set up to see which was harder Yorkshire limestone or Lancashire millstone grit. The children made their predictions, rubbed the rocks together, examined the fragments that crumbled away and found their data supported their prediction – the samples in this case showed that the limestone to be the stronger rock!



Science Book Alert!

Find out how to make a sugar cube mountain and a really explosive volcanic eruption on pages 9 and 21 of Stuff in the Real Scientist series.

For the geology element of the new English science curriculum look into Rocks and Soil in the Moving up with Science series.

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