OH!! No, the Mountain is Blowing Away!!!

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SWBAT explore and experience simulated weather on a mountain that will demonstrate erosion.

Big Idea

Understanding how weather can affect the appearance of a mountain is challenging. It happens slowly, but can have a huge impact on the mountain afterwards.

Setting the Stage

5 minutes

This lesson really connects nicely to 2-ESS1-1.  (Make observations from media to construct an evidence-based account that Earth events can occur quickly or slowly).  This could and can be difficult to simulate regardless if the process is slow or quick.  Simply because the Earth is so large, it is would be difficult to bring the world into the classroom.  Using video clips are a great help and certainly have their place in helping with this type of standard. However, the more you can simulate in a smaller scale, the more visual and lasting of an impression the learning will be. 

Using your best judgement, it is up to the teacher to decide if this lesson is taught in one day or two. My teaching block allowed for one day to teach this entire lesson, however, it could easily be broken up into two sessions. 

Materials Needed: 

For this activity, you will need the following materials...

rectangular tin foil pans or containers for each team

soil in each container

fake trees or figurines (I purchased mine at the local Dollar Store)

package of craft moss

spray bottles or something to pour water



10 minutes

We begin this lesson with a conversation that revisits the Age of a Mountain Probe.  I ask the children to remember what we talked about during this lesson, and what they shared was their thinking about the age of a mountain.  

I share with them that we really did not discuss what the answer to the question is about the age of mountains.  I continue explaining that "the question is not quite as simple as the question they attempted to answer on the probe.  But that one thing scientists do know is how the shape of mountains can change and the investigation we are going to explore in this lesson will help us to understand this." 

I have my containers ready with the soil inside.  I show the children the tray and explain that each team will have one tray and we will work through this together.  "We are going to pretend that the container with the mound of soil inside is a mountain."  

Because I want the children to begin using more scientific language, I clarify my statement. "Boys and girls rather than use the word 'pretend,' we are going to use a new word, 'simulate.'  That is a great word that means to try and recreate something." I also remind them that this simulation is really a model (SP2).

Right away their heads are bouncing in agreement. The children love to use big words and they become excited anytime a new word is introduced.  

"We are going to use our simulated mountain to help us see how a mountain can change and perhaps tell more of it's story.  Each time we complete a different type of weather, we are going to write the results down on our chart to help us understand the changes." 


25 minutes

"The first tool I will bring to you is a straw.  Each team member will receive one and you will all have the chance to use it to blow some 'wind' on to your mountain. One of your team members will need to hold the mountain up at an angle so that the  changes will be very visible.  You will understand what I mean when you begin."

This provides a fantastic opportunity for the children to work collaboratively to conduct an investigation and produce results (SP3). 

The children decide who will hold the container at an angle and the others will each begin blowing from the top of mountain to the bottom.  I instruct the children to make sure they stand upwind from the mountain wind.  The soil is dry and with no humidity in the air, it does tend to fly in the classroom.  I am also careful to make sure that any child with allergies or asthma is away from the blowing soil.  

Right away there is a visible observation.  Soil dust is flying everywhere. The children are excited and it takes a bit of control to keep them focused. I ring my bell to have them stop blowing and look at me.  We discuss what has just happened to the mountain.  The children are able to share that the dirt is blowing and they can see it moving down the mountain. When I ask "where will it stop?" They all say "at the bottom of the mountain."  

Next, I bring the children a spray bottle with water inside. I explain to the children that this will simulate rain on the mountain and their job is to watch what happens to the topsoil on the mountain as the rain comes down.  We go through the same process as the wind and document the results.  

Last, I bring the children a measuring cup with water.  I demonstrate how I want them to pour the water on the top of their mountain.  I remind them to pour the water slowly and not too fast.  We are not trying to simulate a flood of monumental forms, but maybe melting snow. 

After the children have completed all the weather simulations, we take a few minutes to jot down words to describe what we observed in the investigation on the anchor chart.  Using the anchor chart puts language to work.  It will help us to refer back to again in later lessons.  


15 minutes

Once all the work was done, the children begin to work on writing up their conclusions.  They are working to construct an evidence based account to explain the different types of weathering and the effects they have upon the shape of the mountain (SP6). 

I give them a Student Sentence Stems Blackline to fill in.  I explain to the children that if they would like to write in their answers, they are welcome to.  Or if they are comfortable enough to use it as a way to organize their ideas and thoughts with their partner, that is alright as well. There is a lot of information in this investigation and bringing it all together is a bit challenging.  For this reason, I give them the stems to help pull all their ideas along.  The children do a great job of pulling much of the information from the anchor chart.  


15 minutes

The next day, after the children have had time to absorb all that we had done with the weathering effects, I asked them to write in their journals what they had learned up to this point.  I was pleased that they had been picking up so much.  

I was looking to see if they children were beginning to internalize the concept that weather can change the shape and size of mountains.  That it is also an effect of Earth changes that occur slowly (2-ESS1-1). 

If I do not read much of this in the student writing, then I know I will need to go back and reteach this concept a bit more.  If I hear that they children are picking up the concept of weathering and erosion, than I know that I am set to go forth with the next lessons.