Rock Cycle II

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SWBAT conduct a lab modeling the rock cycle SWBAT interpret a diagram modeling the rock cycle in Earth's crust

Big Idea

Students conduct a lab activity modeling the parts of the rock cycle.

Lesson Introduction

[Note: For additional information, including embedded checks for understanding and teacher directions, refer to the lesson here: Whole Lesson (with comments) or the entire lesson in PDF form here: Whole Lesson [PDF]]

I like this lesson mainly because it's a ton of fun. While it is fun (obviously), I also like it because I feel it isn't purely activity-based - a large number of students have self-reported that this lesson really helped them "get" the rock cycle and the types of rocks. The materials are listed below, but the lesson itself revolves around a mini-lab where students get to actually model the stages of the rock cycle in creating rock types with some tasty ingredients. Keep in mind, you may need slightly more time than an hour (or split it over two days), and you may want to allocate enough time for clean up at the end!

Needed Materials (per group - I have groups of 4 students/group):

  • "Mineral samples" (Marshmallows, peanut butter chips [substitute another chip if your students have food allergies], chocolate chips, and butter)
  • Hot Plate 
  • Sheet of aluminum foil
  • Ice Tray
  • Textbooks (2-3 per group)
  • Stopwatch

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. 

Mini-Practice & Mini-Lab

30 minutes

In this section, students are first given some time to collectively work on a problem together. The first section in the Rock Cycle Lab serves as a brief review of the rock cycle through a problem that students tackle together. They're given a few minutes to read and write out their responses before the mini-lab is introduced. 

The mini-lab itself consists of a few different ingredients with which students will model the steps of the rock cycle. It's fun, engaging, and the activity is actually fairly good at elucidating the steps of the rock cycle in real time (in the past few times this has been taught, many students have referenced this lesson as one that helps them remember the steps). This is also a way for students to demonstrate the steps in real-time. Much of the temporal challenge of the rock cycle and visualizations of it is that it is often too slow - it's hard to see or picture something on a timeframe in the millions of years. This allows students, in the context of just a few minutes, to see how one step transfers into another, and how the method of formation, despite similar "ingredients" ultimately determines the type of rock it will become.

Logistically, refer to the Rock Cycle Lab for directions, while are fairly straightforward, but as an aside, it definitely helps to have the ingredients and materials pre-sorted into groups and ready, to both save time and prevent any classroom messes from happening. 

Discussion & Analysis

10 minutes

After completing the lab, students will continue their group work in answering the Discussion questions in laboratory groups [Note: They should clean up first!]. The Discussion, similar to the previous day's activity (and how they'll be assessed on the state exam), asks them to summarize the steps of the rock cycle as demonstrated in the lab. Some elaborative questions ask students to differentiate between different rock "states" as well as to think about how the model might be improved, or might not fully represent the rock cycle in true fashion. It's essential and important here that students use the correct vocabulary, so I often have them utilize their Earth Science Reference Tables [ESRT] (look on page six for a rock cycle diagram) to facilitate this process. Since they're still cementing the ideas together in their brains, this visual anchor has been extremely helpful for them during this step. 

Clean Up, Exit Ticket, and Closing

10 minutes

Again, definitely allow enough time for clean up (it helps if one student in the group is the designated 'Materials Manager' or responsible for actually cleaning up the lab area). I think a great way to make sure this happens is to have a hard stop in your lesson - regardless of what is happening, how engaged children are, or how much learning is taking place, everything needs to grind to a halt and clean up needs to begin. Since this lab is a bit messy, absolutely allocate some extra time to allow your room to get back in order (which is especially important for shared classrooms like the one I teach in!). 

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 1.6 - 1st Unit, 6th 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.