Introduction to the Rock Cycle

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SWBAT explain the three (3) criteria by which rocks are classified (origin, mineral content, and texture) and identify the steps of the rock cycle

Big Idea

Students complete an online "tour" of the rock cycle in this introductory lesson.

Do Now & Objective(s)

10 minutes

Students come in silently and complete the Do Now. After time expires (anywhere from 2-4 minutes depending on the type of Do Now and number of questions), we collectively go over the responses (usually involving a series of cold calls and/or volunteers) before asking a student to read the objective to start the lesson.

As a note, the Do Now serves a few purposes: general review of the previous day's material, re-activation of student knowledge to get them back into "student mode" and get them thinking about science, an efficient and established routine for entering the classroom, and as a strategy for reviewing material students have struggled with (for example, I used the previous week's assessment data in this Do Now to prepare questions with content they might need help on). 

In this Do Now, I included a free-response question, which is a bit of a departure than the multiple-choice heavy Do Nows in previous lessons. I review these the same way that I would a multiple choice - I call on a student or two to read theirs, and then poll the class or additional students to express support, dissent, or add to/modify an answer choice. This is all in the guise of getting students to interact peer-to-peer (as opposed to teacher-student) in addition to building the accountability of having them listen to each other for correct responses. 

Lab Review

10 minutes

Given that there wasn't enough class time allocated to review the lab from yesterday (see Lesson 1.4), we'll take about 10 minutes today to review the Discussion questions and re-emphasize key concepts from the activity. I usually initiate the review process in a similar manner to the Do Now mentioned above. Depending on the mood of the class and what I feel is necessary in terms of correctness or time, I either:

  • Use popsicle sticks (with student names) to call on students to read their responses
  • Ask for volunteers
  • Cold call


Those students who are called on read their answer in their entirety. I then either confirm or deny the answer, but more often, I push that onto another student with a "Do you agree?" or "Can you elaborate or extend that answer?" If the general consensus is assent, we collectively move on. If I feel there is a missing point for emphasis or something needs to be clarified, I'll do so. 

Ultimately, this lab is one of the most critical lab assignments during the entire year, as the skills introduced are going to be required for success on the lab practical portion of the NYS Regents Examination. Ultimately, students need to develop strong automaticity when it comes to building skills in learning how to identify physical and chemical properties of minerals. 

Rock Cycle Activity

30 minutes

The Rock Cycle Activity is a technology-guided activity that allows for students to explore the rock cycle at their own pace in an introductory setting. Since the website (link here) itself is fairly comprehensive and covers the rock cycle via vocabulary, examples, pictures, and animations, it serves as a great introductory activity to get students comfortable and familiar with the concept of matter cycling over time. 

As mentioned above, the activity itself is fairly self-guided. I generally allow students a large chunk of time to work at their own pace. As they finish, they're able to start on a rock cycle reading passage that reinforces much of what they're already seen. As a final step, they're asked to use their Earth Science Reference Tables [ESRT] to help them identify the key steps and processes in the rock cycle. 

In terms of technology, our campus has a few "mobile computer labs," which are Chromebooks carts that can easily move from classroom-to-classroom. They have full Internet access, and students can get online via a personal, school affiliated login. I've generally found that students are actually super engaged with computers - I've literally never seen an issue in the past year or so with students being on the wrong websites or not doing what they're supposed to be doing. I think they appreciate the opportunity to utilize computers as a research and learning tool, and they're aware that I can be pretty direct with consequences if I were to see something going awry. But as long as they're working, I'm completely comfortable with them moving at their own pace in this lesson. I've found that pacing hasn't been too much of an issue, even when it's self-directed, as this very much is. 

[Note: The website link is hard to get right on the first time for 9th graders! As a hint, I just have them type in "Rock Cycle Activity" in Google, and it's (as of this writing) the 4th one from the top. Probably a bit easier and less stressful if they do it that way!]

Exit Ticket & Closing

10 minutes

Students take the Exit Ticket (daily assessment) for the day before we go over it together as a class. Before students are dismissed, one or two students are called on to summarize the learning for the day ("What are the three major types of rocks?" or "Tell me about how metamorphic rocks are formed..."). 

Students also have an 'Exit Ticket Tracker,' which is nothing more than a simple piece of paper with column headings for 'Date,' 'Lesson' (all lessons are titled with Unit.Lesson as a format, like this one, which is 1.5 - 1st Unit, 5th Lesson), and 'Score'. I collect these at the end of each unit as a summative grade. I also periodically collect exit tickets to determine where students are at, and where any content or learning gaps are.