Diamonds are the state gem in Arkansas, where we live, but students everywhere will enjoy learning more about them. Diamonds are made entirely of carbon — we humans are about 18% carbon ourselves, but diamonds are all carbon. They’re the hardest substance in the world, and they reflect light in a special way (basically, the light bounces around inside the diamond) that makes them super shiny.
How diamonds are formed
- Diamonds began with stardust. As far as we know, pretty much all the carbon in the world came to earth as dust from dying stars. The stardust that ended up deep within the earth was the starting point for diamonds.
- The carbon inside the earth’s layers, between the core and the crust, got cooked and squished — it takes a lot of heat and pressure to create diamonds.
- When magma comes up to the earth during volcanic action, diamonds can come along for the ride. The results is areas where diamonds can be mined, as in the book at the Volcano Lesson Plans link, and also diamonds moved around by erosion.
Have students conduct research on each of these steps and create an infographic showing how diamonds are formed.
Read about Crater of Diamonds State Park, where diamond hunters can keep any diamonds they find — and large diamonds have been found there, including the “Uncle Sam” diamond, which was over 40 carats. Crater of Diamonds is the only active diamond mine in the United States, but it is operated as a tourist attraction; it was found that it could not be operated profitably as a commercial diamond mine. Download the Teachers Guide for reproducibles (reading comprehension passage, maze, and word find).
Plan an imaginary class trip to the park, figure the costs, and determine what sort of diamond the class would have to find to make the trip pay for itself. This project will give practice with online research, math, and problem solving.
Share A Diamond’s Journey , an interactive digital presentation from NBC news, with older students. There they can follow the diamond from the mines in Africa through cutters in India to sales in Europe and the United States. Have students create a chart showing the cost of a diamond and how much of that price goes to the miners, traders, cutters, and dealers.
Compare the Crater of Diamonds park and the commercial diamond mines. Discuss why a diamond mine in the United States might be harder to pay for than a mine in Botswana. Will American workers accept jobs like those of the miners in the Congo or the cutters in India? Would it be legal to pay an American worker $65.oo per month, the wage diamond cutters earn in India, or to have them live in tents at a mine?
The value of diamonds
Gem-quality diamonds are the first ones we think of. Have students explore Blue Nile’s Diamond Education section to learn about diamond shapes and the “4 Cs” of diamond quality: color, clarity, cut, and carat weight.
Don’t miss the chance to work with ratios on the Diamond Shapes page and measurement on the Cut page!
Now learn about diamonds as they are used in jewelry:
- Read about the history of diamond cutting and add the times and places to your class timeline and map.
- Explore a Pinterest board on diamonds which shows many of the most famous examples of diamond jewelry in history.
- Have students design a piece of jewelry for diamonds, being sure to incorporate what they’ve learned about diamond quality and cutting.
Wait — diamonds aren’t just for pretty! Only a small percentage of diamonds are gem quality. Most are industrial quality, but they are still extremely useful. Diamonds have some special characteristics that have nothing to do with their beauty:
- Diamonds are the hardest substance known.
- They do not conduct electricity well (they are semiconductors), but they do conduct heat very well — in fact, diamonds are the best material for thermal conduction.
- They resist water, but accept oil.
Brainstorm with the class situations in which objects with these characteristics might be useful. Share with students (after brainstorming) that diamonds are mostly used for cutting and polishing. However, there are many other uses for diamonds. For example, diamonds are used in micro-electronics to carry heat away from delicate machinery. They are used as bearings (like a ball bearing) in watches, because they are so hard that they produce no friction in this use. They are used as semiconductors in electronics.
If the point has not yet come up in your discussion, point out that diamonds are small and rare. As long as industry needed big pieces, diamonds were not as useful as they might have been. Now that we make very small things for electronics, diamonds are very useful.
99% of the diamonds used in industrial applications are synthetic. See the links below to learn more about making diamonds.
- Nature has video clips and discussion questions about diamonds
- The Mystery of the Hope Diamond includes video clips.
- PBS lesson plan on conflict diamonds.
- Diamonds and Water is an economics lesson on value.
- Toads and Diamonds is a traditional story.
Mt. St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980. I was living in Northern California at the time, and we had ash falling on us from the sky. For so many of us, volcanoes are something we think of as having happened long ago and far away — the eruption of Mt. St. Helens changed our minds.
57 people died in that eruption.
Share this with your students:
Point out the image in the video (1:17) showing the dome as it forms and let your students know that something similar is happening right now in South America, in the so-called “sombrero uplift.” The current uplift is growing at about the same rate as fingernails. Mt. St. Helens was growing at a rate of six feet a day. Have students figure out how to chart the difference in the rates at which the volcanoes are/were progressing.
Visit Annenberg Learner’s interactive volcanoes exhibit (use your projector) to learn the basics about how volcanoes form, how they can be predicted, and how people deal with the dangers of volcanoes.
Now that you have your students’ attention, here are two lesson plans we like to use to study volcanoes. The first, a literature based study, is a good choice for upper elementary, while the second is suited to middle school or older.
- Read The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois and check out a fun Flash movie summarizing the book. Challenge students to catch the typos.
- Check out our hot air balloon classroom theme for more resources.
- Learn about heat and decide whether the 21 balloons really would have been able to escape the volcano as they did in the book.
- Have students design and draw their own balloons.
- Compare Krakatoa in the book with the real Krakatoa, located in Indonesia. Study more about the rainforests of Southeast Asia, where Krakatoa is located.
Preparing for volcanic eruptions
- Are you in the path of a volcano? Use the USGS map to find the nearest volcano to your school. Use Google Maps (or just ask Google directly) to find the distance from your school to the volcano.
- Determine whether you would be in any danger if the nearest volcano erupted. Divide students into ten pairs or teams and give each team one of the Time Magazine Top Ten Volcanic Eruptions to research.
- Have students add the eruption they’re researching to the class timeline and map. Each team should also identify the furthest point at which effects of the eruptions were reported. Compare the distances with your distance from the nearest volcano.
- If you determine that your school would be affected by an eruption, list the effects you might encounter. Note that the 1815 eruption of Indonesia’s Mt. Tambora, the largest recorded eruption, affected the world’s climate so much that crops failed in Europe and North America. Use this information to remind students to consider consequences beyond the most obvious ones.
- Scientists like those in the video above now can predict volcanic eruptions in ways they couldn’t in the past, so people are usually warned. Check out the CDC’s advice on preparing for volcanoes. Compare this information with the disaster preparedness training you usually cover in school (such as preparation for earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, severe storms, etc.) and take the opportunity to remind students of the importance of disaster preparedness.
- Develop a plan for your school if the nearest volcano should erupt. Depending on your location, it might include preparing for evacuation, staying inside to avoid ash, or raising funds for distant victims of the volcano.
- Volcano World’s lesson plans The site contains lots of photos, virtual field trips, and more. Grab a cup of coffee and explore.
- USGS resources include up to date interactive maps of volcanic activity and alerts.
- Enchanted Learning’s classic volcano diagram
- Discovery Kids Volcano Explorer makes a great game for your computer center.
- Another option is the Volcano Maker
A note on the baking soda and vinegar volcano…
My kids made baking soda and vinegar volcanoes every year in school, I think. I have three problems with this activity:
- It seems to imply that volcanoes are caused by a chemical interaction, which is not the case.
- It’s an art project, which is fine, but doing it every year seems to give unwarranted importance to it.
- Kids get sick of it, even though it’s spectacular, if they do it every year.
If you are determined to conduct this project, put a quarter cup of baking soda into a bottle with some dish soap and a bit of red food coloring. Do something with the bottle to make it look like a volcano — sand, papier mache, or store-bought volcano kits will all work.
Pour in a half cup of vinegar and stand back to enjoy the show.
Those of us who teach Shakespeare can easily be overwhelmed by the — literally — millions of online resources on Shakespeare. You don’t have to spend hours clicking around looking for the best ones, because we already did it for you.
First, the plays:
- The Complete Works: all the words
- No Fear Shakespeare is a parallel translation of Shakespeare into modern English.
Now the background information to help place Shakespeare in time and space:
- Shakespeare Online: a retro site that requires some persistent browsing, but totally worth it
- Shakespeare Research Guide
- An interactive timeline of Shakespeare’s life
- A Shakespeare Google Earth Tour inspired by that timeline, written up as an assignment
- Macbeth: A Google Lit Trip
- A Shakespeare Atlas for Google Earth
Some things people think about Shakespeare:
- Lectures on specific critical questions about various plays, from Oxford
- Shawn and Shakespeare: an interesting collection of personal essays on Shakespeare’s plays, plus reviews of movies.
- The New York Times on Shakespeare
When it comes to video, you can probably find a film of any scene you might want to show in class. Go to YouTube and search for the specific scene, or for conversations between characters (“Othello and Iago” for example) to avoid having to wade through too many options.
We also want to point out a couple of general introductory videos about Shakespeare that should pique students’ interest at the beginning of the study:
This is a wonderful time to be studying Shakespeare!
Jeff Rivera’s books about Yuck Kingdom, Um, Mommy, I Think I Flushed My Brother Down the Toilet and Um, Mommy, I Think I Flushed My Brother Down the Toilet Again paint a picture of what happens when things go down the toilet that can make a fun introduction to the idea of wastewater treatment.
Real and Imaginary
Can people really get flushed down a toilet? Is there really a Yuck Kingdom? Certainky not. But there are things about the stories that ring true: older siblings can love their younger siblings and also find them maddening, kids can try to manipulate parents, and people can band together to stand up to something scary.
Have students list the real and imaginary things in the story.
Then study wastewater treatment and compare the reality with the imaginary Yuck Kingdom:
- Wastewater treatment information from USGS
- interactive water treatment tour
- GBRA interactive tour
- interactive map
Have students look at these interactive resources and identify the things that are the same in all of them and the things that are different. Are there any parts of Yuck Kingdom that are like real sewage treatment?
Have students draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper or poster board. Have them draw a scene from Yuck Kingdom on one side and from a real wastewater treatment plant on the other. Label them “Real” and “Imaginary.”
The book has lots of groups of rhyming words. Have students write the words on word cards and sort them into rhyming groups. Have students find the parts of each group that are the same and the parts that are different. Find the groups where the same sound is spelled in different ways and those where the rhyming sound is spelled in the same way each time.
Some of the groups of rhyming words include made-up words. Find groups of words like these and have students divide the real words from the imaginary ones:
At one point, the young heroine of the story says this about her little brother: “He was a pain, but he was my pain.” Author Jeff Rivera has 12 neices and nephews, so he knows what it’s like to have little brothers and sisters. Ask how many students have younger siblings. Create a list of the things they do that make them a “pain.” Then discuss what’s great about having brothers and sisters.
Some students may not have siblings. Ask whether they have similar experiences with a pet, friend, or relative.
Falisha doesn’t want her mommy to tell her daddy what she has done. She’s able to make things right, and we don’t see her getting in trouble with her dad, or having more than a scolding from her mom. Why do kids get in trouble with their parents? Is it important to make things right when we’ve done something we shouldn’t?
How does Falisha make things right with her brother? How does she make things right with her mother?
Ask students whether they think Falisha and Jesse will get into trouble again in the future. Have them write a story of their own starring themselves and their sibling, pet, or friend.
Find more ideas for studying about families at our Families theme page.
What’s a rain garden? It’s a lowered garden bed planted with deep-rooted plants which will enjoy being watered by the standing water that pools when it rains hard. They can be planted in areas that already form puddles, or rain that collects on a roof or a paved area can be directed toward an area where a new lowered bed will be dug. Rain gardens help with storm water runoff and erosion, while adding to the beauty of a landscape.
Plan one for your school to get a lesson that combines math, art, ecology, and general earth science to create a terrific learning experience. Take it a step further and plant the garden you plan for a fine service learning project!
Creating a rain garden isn’t much more difficult than making a traditional garden.
- Observe During the next rainstorm, have the class watch through a window or step into a sheltered area and see where rainwater pools. Use class cameras to capture the location, or use stakes to mark the locations physically. Be sure to locate your rain garden at least 10 feet away from the building so you don’t get a water-logged building.
- Have students draw maps or use Google Earth to create a map of the school. Mark the locations of potential rain gardens.
- Decide which location will make the best rain garden. If you intend to follow up by planting the garden, invite school officials to join this discussion so you can get permission.
- Is there a depression in the ground already? If not, do the math and determine how large a space to dig. As a rule, your rain garden should be at least 20% as big as the area you hope to drain. So, if rain running off the roof is to be the source of the water for the garden, you’ll need a garden 20% as big as your roof. In fact, a smaller rain garden can help and there’s no such thing as too big a garden, but this step is good real-life math practice.
- Decide which plants to use. Rain gardens usually use native plants. Our local water district provides a PDF guide to native plants appropriate for our region; your local experts can help you identify good choices. You certainly need plants that don’t mind getting their feet wet, and deep roots are best.
- Measure the space. Learn how big the plants you’ve chosen will be, and plot the place and number of plants you’ll need. Draw plants into your garden maps with circles showing the mature size of the plants. More great math opportunities here!
- Contact a local nursery to determine the price of the plants and calculate a budget for your garden.
Actually planting the garden is a wonderful way to follow up.
Next week, you’ll have to change your calendar. And that means that you might as well change the bulletin boards. And that means that it is time to decide: do you have Christmas in the classroom or not?
In our state, Thanksgiving is in the frameworks, so there’s no suspense there. But Christmas is, like Hallowe’en, controversial. Some schools ban all lessons on all holidays (excepting, presumably, those required by the state frameworks), on the grounds that it is impossible to be evenhanded with holidays, observing all of them equally, even if we arbitrarily limit the holidays we cover to those that we believe are celebrated in our particular community. We’re probably wrong when we make that guess, by the way.
There are also many adults, some of them teachers, who have happy childhood memories of classroom holiday celebrations, who feel that we are robbing our students of some wonderful classroom experiences when we don’t honor holidays. And there are those who feel that we are being intellectually dishonest if we skip over Christmas, when it is so widely celebrated in the United States. There are also those who feel that, if we are going to include Christmas in our classrooms, it is essential that we do so in a particular way — usually either with or without its religious significance, again for a variety of reasons.
In short, it is practically impossible not to offend someone at this time of year.
There are several possible approaches:
- Acknowledge that Christmas is widely celebrated here, that the children know about it and are interested, either as part of their own cultural experience or as something interesting about another culture, and decorate with Christmas symbols. Secular Christmas symbols, generally, if you are at a public school. If you go this route, there are lots of ready-made choices, from Santa Claus to Christmas trees and more. We’ll be bringing you ideas for this approach, and lesson plans for some of our favorite holiday books, too.
- Present Christmas as one among many winter holidays that people celebrate. This has the potential to give kids the impression that, say, Chanukah is “the Jewish Christmas” or Diwali is “the Indian Christmas,” and in general turn diversity into a badly understood mishmash. Carefully done, it can be a great study, but it does have the potential to offend people of many different faiths. As Ethan Stanislawski puts it, “Are we really being egalitarian if we rank the importance of holidays of other religions by their proximity to Christmas?” One solution here is to study multicultural holidays, recognizing the important holidays of various faiths and cultures, regardless of when they are celebrated. TCR’s Multicultural Holidays and The Festive Teacher: Multicultural Activities for Your Curriculum take this approach. So does our Holiday Traditions Lesson Plan.
- Decide that, since you personally celebrate Christmas or do not celebrate Christmas, you will decorate your classroom as you do your home, giving students an opportunity to learn about your customs. This has potential to offend, but you have an answer if anyone brings it up.
- Learn about the ways that Christmas is celebrated around the world, thus offering a sense of diversity without implying that other holidays are variants on Christmas. TCR’s Celebrate Christmas Around the World does a good job of this. We’ll be presenting some fun ideas for this option from our “Christmas Around the World” workshop over the next few weeks.
- Recognize that children, whether they observe Christmas as a secular or as a religious holiday or not at all, are bombarded with holiday messages outside the classroom at this time of year, and decide that they don’t need more in the classroom. Ignore Christmas, and go with something seasonal yet unrelated, like mittens or winter sports or earthquakes (the great New Madrid quakes began in December, you know) or snowmen. It is hard to see how anyone could reasonably be offended by this approach, and we will be bringing you a variety of these options during December.
There are many decoratives nowadays that allow you some flexibility. The Home and Holiday Hearth from Teacher’s Friend lets you focus on general winter topics by putting the clock or the books on the mantelpiece and treating it as a winter scene. One day, you might add stockings and talk about Christmas, or the menorah and talk about Chanukah. In due season, you can switch to the Kwanza symbols, confident that you are making the point that different cultural groups have different celebrations, and that quite a few of them take place in the winter, when it is nice to be at home with your family anyway.
Another flexible option is to go with something which is strongly enough associated with Christmas that students who celebrate that holiday will enjoy it as part of their holiday celebration, without being so strongly associated with the holiday as to make those who do not celebrate it feel left out.
One of these possibilities would be gingerbread. Gingerbread houses are traditional for Christmas, but also work well as a theme on their own.
Check out our lesson plans for “The Gingerbread Boy.”
Other themes that work well for this option are bells, stars, reindeer, and candy.
Those of you teaching at home, in parochial schools, or in churches and other places of worship don’t have this problem. The rest of us can contemplate our choices for the next couple of days.