Can we save this Mountain?

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SWBAT create a plan that will prevent a mountain slide.

Big Idea

Mountain slides are real and dangerous. Using science and ingenuity to prevent them is one preventative measure that can be explored.

Setting the Stage

5 minutes

This lesson was designed to give my students an opportunity to understand the impact that humans can have in saving mountains from serious erosion.  In our state, we receive a significant amount of rainfall and geologists are continually studying the effects that this has on our mountains.  

Sadly, we had a serious slide that occurred earlier in the year in our state that brought much speculation about this very subject. I used this situation to set up the lesson and explain to my students how humans can make a contribution to preventing this from happening.  

This lesson is a great lesson in that it actually addresses two standards: 2-ESS-1 and K-2ETS-1.  

Background Knowledge of the Standard: 

I use this video clip from Paul Andersen from Bozeman, Montana to help me with understanding the content and science behind both these standards.  I frequently use Paul's work to clarify in my mind what the standards really mean.  I like his video clips because not only do they focus on the grade level I teach, but show me where the learning will after my teaching.  


Materials Needed: 


small rocks (I bought craft rocks)

larger rocks (I bought craft rocks)

painters trays (angled ones)

craft moss

spray bottles



5 minutes

I begin this lesson with a video clip from an actual land slide that occurred in our state just months ago.  Using footage from a real landslide made this lesson more realistic and because it happened in our state, it offered some real world applications for the students. 

After the video clip is played, I wait for a couple of minutes to let the images settle with the children.  We discuss the situation of this landslide and I reassure my students that this was not close to our school or homes.  It was on the other side of our state, the side that gets much more rain than we do.  

Once this had been laid to rest, I move to Slide two, which poses the question, "What could people have done to prevent this?"  I allow the children to discuss this for a moment and share out their ideas.  Their ideas are creative.  Suggestions about building walls, bringing in cement blocks, cutting out all the trees are all heard and listened too.  

When all the ideas have been shared, the next question is, "What kind of scientist would work on this?"  The children are now familiar with the idea that there are many different types of scientists and they are sure they can figure this one out.  Slide three explains that this scientist would be Geological Engineer.  I spend some time talking with the children about what this scientist does.  We also read the text on the screen and use this information to help us understand.  

We move to Slide four and read about the investigation and what the children will be doing in this investigation.   

"In your table teams, you will create a simulation of a mountain. Your task will be to investigate possibilities that could prevent a mudslide that could erode and change the face of your mountain." 

The children are really excited!! They know this means they will be planning, creating and implementing their ideas. 


15 minutes

During this phase of the lesson, I explain to the children that we will be using many of the same materials that we used during our other mountain lesson. However, I have made one change in the paint tray that we are using.  I remind them how the last time we simulated the mountain in the tin tray, it was very flimsy and did not hold well.  So I made the decision to change to these trays instead. The kids are all shaking their heads in agreement.  Remembering the last investigation and the way the trays did not hold up as well.  

I explain to the children the process we are going to go through. Slide five has the Brainstorm phase of the plan explained with questions to help guide our thinking.  The children make instant connections to the word 'Brainstorm.' I hear comments such as, "We brainstorm in writing too."  or "Brainstorming is our planning step."  I am happy to hear the connections that the students are making.  It is good to make those cross curricular connections.  

I move on to Slide six and let these questions continue to guide the conversations within the table teams. (Cooperative learning teams).  I am listening to the groups and their conversations, interjecting when necessary.  When the teams all get to the question about "What materials will you need?"  I stop the class from their discussions and ask everyone, what suggestions do they have?  Invariably, someone mentions 'rocks.' 

How clever, I have already anticipated they will suggest this.  I hold up a container with small rocks (the craft store kind) and ask, "Like this?" and the answer I receive is, "YES!"  

Slide seven declares the time for Building and Designing is here. It says the children must create a plan.  I bring paper to all the teams and explain they must document the plan they are going to implement. The children are used to my speaking with these terms and are not surprised or confused when I tell them what they need to do. I share with them that they may design their plan in anyway they would like. Their plan may not look anything like the another team's plan. What is important is that their team understand what they are going to do.  

Slide eight explains it is time to test the plan.  Many of the children found that they had water running down their mountain and this did not solve the problem they were tackling.  I knew before hand that the small rocks would not provide the substantial amount of rock wall to stop the water. For this reason, I did not give the children the big rocks first or even combined with the smaller rocks. 

Slide nine expresses the need to Reflect on the results. This is a critical piece of the engineering process and the learning.  Scientists will construct explanations and redesign solutions based upon prior experience (SP 6).  


10 minutes

Once all the children had put their plans into practice, it is time to continue with the process of revising and adjusting the plan. 

Slide ten says it is time to Modify. I explain to the children that this was really just like what we do in our writing when we revise and edit the work.  We are simply going to make our plans better, based upon what we discovered with our first plans and the results. Reminding them that scientists do not make mistakes, they simply take what they learn good or bad from their investigations and adjust.  

I ask the children if there was anything they felt they could use to make their next plan work more effectively?  Within seconds, someone asks, "Do you have some bigger rocks?" And, of course, I did. Again, I already anticipated that this would be the request.  I have larger rocks already set aside in color coded bowls for each team hidden out of sight.  This made it easy to accommodate the children's request.  

I bring the bowls of rocks around to each team and they set out to work instantly.  Within minutes, I heard shouts of "Yes! It worked!"  


15 minutes

Slide eleven says it is time to share our learning from the investigation.

The Common Core Writing Standard 2.7 says that students need to be able to work together to write a report of a science observation. The students have been working hard in other areas of learning to master all the essential pieces of writing an explanatory piece of writing, but in science it is a bit more challenging.  I want my students to be able to have the chance to begin to practice this in a group setting that felt safe and would support their ideas.  This is the perfect opportunity.  

I create some sentence stems to help them complete their work together and at the same time recount and share with each other their investigations and discoveries with the mountains.  

I explain what the children are to do with their sentence stems and let them go.