I’m glad you asked!
My favourite Science unit to teach is definitely Earth Sciences. Studying earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis is exciting! Students love to learn about how these amazing natural phenomena are caused and what effects they can have. In Australia we occasionally have some minor tremors and our volcanoes are all extinct. Mind you, however, on our last family trip to Mt Gambier, I did feel a fleeting moment of panic at the thought that the experts might be wrong… At any moment the Blue Lake might not be quite so tranquil!
Are you teaching Earth Sciences this term? If you are, check out some helpful ideas and websites that can make your unit even more hands-on and engaging.
This government organisation, located in Canberra, have an outstanding education department who provide a huge amount of resources for teachers. All their programs and resources are aligned to the Australian Curriculum. They even hold PD events if you are able to attend/participate. Their classroom resource section on the website is a great place to start.
If your class is going to Canberra for camp, add the GeoScience Centre to your itinerary. It’s great fun and very hands-on. I had the fortune of visiting on camp with my class in 2015. The students certainly enjoyed making the seismograph move by jumping up and down with as much force as possible! They also loved exploring the different kinds of rocks and gems found in Australia, and playing with different kinds of soil and other hands-on activities. As a teacher-geek BONUS, I managed to sift through the Centre’s collection of huge posters. I managed to take home quite a few to display in the classroom, just in time for our Earth Science unit. These were my favourite camp souvenirs, much to the dismay of my students.
My name is Amy, and I am a Pinterest addict… Honestly, what did teachers do without it?
If you’re looking for ideas to help you out with your Earth Science unit, look on Pinterest to see what other teachers are sharing and to find videos and gifs that may be helpful. I have put together quite a collection of ideas and resources on my Earth Science board on the Aussie Star Resource profile. Feel free to check it out and pin like crazy from there.
You’ll no doubt see lots of these if you check out Pinterest, but I thought I’d share a couple that were successful with my Year 6 students.
Tectonic Tennis Balls
This was lots of fun and these little balls were a hit! (Too punny?) The printable resources you need are on the GeoScience website – Plate tectonics globe tennis ball activity. You will need to either buy cheap tennis balls from a $2 shop or ask students to bring one in from home. It’s best to warn them that they will be gluing paper on to the ball. It won’t be able to be used as a tennis ball again, so it’s probably not a good idea to bring a good brand name ball. Nor is your Mum’s prized ball signed by Roger Federer, after he won his gazillionth grand slam.
By carefully cutting out the tectonic plates, students are able to arrange them to fit on the tennis ball and make a mini globe showing all the major plates. There’s also a template for a cute little stand so students can display their globe on their desks or at home.
20 litres of Water, a big plastic container, food colouring and 25 kids – what can go wrong, right?
**Note – This activity needs some set up time so you may want to dedicate a double lesson.
Check out the link in the title to get an idea of what this might look like. I have conducted this lesson with two activities.
A. At the start of the lesson, we discuss what we know about tsunamis and our understanding of why they occur. Quite a few of my students believed they were only caused by meteorites like they are in the movies, so it is a good idea to address this early. At the front of the room I used a big plastic tub like you get at the bargain shops to put toys etc in. I chose to use a container that goes under the bed as it was wider and easier to use. Some people use a wooden ‘beach’ that they actually build, but seriously, who has the time? Instead of making something (or get my husband to) I asked two students to fill a bucket with sand from the sandpit and to build a beach. We then put Lego buildings and people on the beach. I coloured the water blue with food colouring to make it easier for the students to watch the movement from the side of the container. Pour it in gently at the non-beach end to avoid disrupting the beach too much. Here’s what it looks like when you’re done. It’s very effective.
B. There are two ways you can make the wave: 1. You can bash the end of the tub (the end with the water) to create a wave movement with a heavy book or mallet; or, 2. You can place a board (a chopping board works well) in the water and as you tilt it upwards quickly it creates the wave. (check out the cute little guy in the video below). Both work well, but the board gives students a better idea of how the earth’s movement causes a tsunami.
Other teaching moments.
After we watched and discussed what we saw in the large tsunami demonstration the students used small clear takeaway containers and record their observations. In hindsight, I wish I’d thought of getting them to create and film their own tsunamis on the iPads. Then they would be able to slow the video down to watch the wave movement and the destruction on the beach. They could then have some fun adding music and voice overs. Surprisingly there wasn’t a great deal of mess to clean up as the students were so engrossed in what they were doing they didn’t create much mess at all.
What about assessment?
This topic lends itself to some really fun assessment tasks that go beyond the standard A2 poster board. At the end of each term I like to open a ‘Gallery’ in my classroom. The parents come in and the students tour them through their artwork and projects. We studied Earth Science in Term 3 so in Week 10 on the last day of school after lunch we held an Earthquake Expo, and invited family, friends and the other classes in the junior school. It was a HUGE success and the students were very proud of their work. Here’s how it all happened.
Tell students what’s expected
I really wanted to provide students with a differentiated assessment opportunity to create a project that used their individual strengths and interests. So, I outlined the following criteria and talked them through each one:
- Create a presentation that demonstrates your knowledge and understanding of how sudden geological events can cause changes to the earth’s surface.
- Prepare a visual and oral component for your presentation – that is, you must be able to verbally explain it to your audience.
- You can create any kind of presentation you like, as long as it shows everything you know about how sudden geological events can cause changes to the earth’s surface.
- Work in pairs, groups of 3 or on your own.
- Carefully plan and prepare your presentation and receive feedback from the teacher.
- Creating a blow up volcano with vinegar and bi-carb is not enough! Your presentation MUST demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of how sudden geological events can cause changes to the earth’s surface. (as you can see I harped on this key criterion quite a bit)
- You will receive a project planning booklet and must complete it and present it at the Earthquake Expo with your presentation for the teacher to collect.
It was so great to see the students create amazing presentations. There were so many different kinds of presentations: A cake and jelly tsunami simulator with a well prepared oral presentation. A volcano placed on tectonic plates that when shaken created an eruption. 3D models of tectonic plates and the layers of the earth with amazing statistics. Mini documentaries and stop motion movies with sound effects and voice overs. They were incredible! We brainstormed lots of ideas as a class to help students choose something that worked with their strengths. This was one of the highlights of our year! Check out this gallery of the amazing creations that were on display.
“Wait! This all sounds awesome, Amy, but how am I supposed to prepare all of this on top of everything else?” Don’t worry! I know how busy you are. I’ve been there and I know what it’s like to try and find the time to write up project descriptions and rubrics. Aussie Star Resources have got you covered! Purchase our Earthquake Expo Project Planning Booklet for less than a cup of coffee in our TPT store. This booklet has 21 pages plus invitations/posters that can be sent home or displayed around the school.
Hopefully you’ve found this helpful for planning your Earth Sciences unit. Remember — if you get stuck, Pinterest is a smorgasbord of ideas!