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.
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.
Here’s Lefty, one of the lucky sheep living at the Ozark Folk Center. Lefty, like all sheep, grows wool. Sheep have been raised for wool, as well as for milk and meat, for centuries. In fact, sheep are among the earliest domestic animals.
Wool is removed from sheep by shearing, which is a lot like getting a haircut with clippers, as many boys do. Wool comes in different colors.
The wool is washed and carded (which is like combing), and the resulting wool is called roving . We got to play with some roving at the Ozark Folk Center.
Once the wool is clean and ready, it is spun into yarn with a spinning wheel like the one below, or with big machines in a factory. Spinning is a matter of twisting all the fibers together into one long strand of yarn.
The yarn may be left in its natural color or dyed. At the Folk Center, yarn is often dyed with plants like onions or flowers to give it color.
We also learned how to dye wool in a Zip-loc bag of Kool-Aid, though!
Once the yarn is ready, it can be woven into fabric on a loom.
The yarn can also be knitted into sweaters or socks. Both knitting or weaving are now mostly done by big machines in factories, but chances are good that you could find someone in your community who knits of weaves. Let kids try it out, if possible.
We are very thankful to the Folk Center for showing us all these things and letting us share them with you. If possible, give your students a chance to experience some of these steps in the classroom — maybe not a live sheep, but certainly wool yarn is readily available. Chances are good that someone in the class will own some wool clothing, and the path from sheep to sweater is an interesting one.
Younger students can enjoy reading about the steps from raw materials to finished product in these books:
- Charlie Needs a Cloak by Tomie de Paola
- The Goat in the Rug by Charles L. Blood
- Weaving the Rainbow by George Ella Lyon
- Songs from the Loom: A Navajo Girl Learns to Weave by Monty Roessel
Once students understand the process and have had a chance to experience wool to whatever degree is practical in your classroom, have students illustrate the steps from the sheep to their socks. Students should draw each step from sheep to socks onto a card. Add roving for 3-D fun. Stetch yarn across your bulletin board and let students pin their cards in order with clothespins. You could also make a class book or PowerPoint, or an infographic.
The simplest economics lesson here is the path from raw materials to finished goods. There are some other interesting lessons available, though:
- An infographic shows how price changes have affected the kind of sheep raised in New Zealand over time. This data compares wool and meat prices and production. Have students figure out the case and effect shown in the infographic and write a paragraph.
- Matt Bailey made an infographic showing wool production by country. Have students find the countries represented and see whether there is a connection between the size of the country and the amount of wool produced.
- Do you have 4-H or County Extension agents nearby? They’ll be happy to come talk with your class about raising sheep. Urban classrooms, try this powerpoint presentation instead:
Combine research, art, and writing to create a great classroom project that can be anything from a quick classroom activity to an organizing system for a major science unit.
The basic idea is to have each student create a labeled picture that shares information, then put them all together into a display in the best way for your particular class:
- a bulletin board
- a Pinterest board
- a portfolio page on your class website
- an album for the class library
- a poster board display
I made the example above on my computer, which can be a great way to practice tech skills, but it works just as well if you do it with art supplies in the classroom. You can also use the Trading Cards tool at BigHugeLabs if you want to get a little tech practice but don’t have a graphics program in your classroom. The example below shows a card made with this tool:
Begin by choosing a topic, either as an assignment or together in a class brainstorming session. Then instruct each student to create a card. You could show kids baseball or video game trading cards if the idea will be completely new to them.
To make a card:
- Choose a subject. Here, I’m looking at adaptations. I’ve made a card for a cheetah. If others make cards for other animals, we’ll have a display of various adaptations that will give a good overview of animal adaptations.
- Research the subject, looking for specific information related to the overall theme of the portfolio. Take notes on note cards during this part of the process.
- Choose several points you want to make about your subject.
- Find or create a picture of your subject. I used a photo of a cheetah which I found online (with Creative Commons licensing).
- Label the picture with the informative points you want to make.
- Use any visual tricks you want to make your project look cool — I put white under my words and used arrow images to point to the elements of the picture that went with the information I had in mind. If you’re using physical cards, this is a great opportunity to practice new art techniques in a small project.
Once students complete their cards, collect them and display them. I like to take some time here to discuss possible ways to organize the cards, since I teach writing — organizing data is key for my class. If you’re focusing on the art aspect, you might choose to lay the cards out to find the most attractive mix. There may also be an obvious best arrangement; for example, if you have students create cards for elements, you’ll probably want to arrange them according to the periodic table of the elements.
We’re largely made of water, so it should be no surprise that much of human life revolves around water. Explore some of the ways water matters with these lesson plans.
Water to drink
Human beings cannot live without water, and finding clean, potable (safely drinkable) water is a challenge in many parts of the world.
- Learn about the water cycle.
- The American Water WorksAssociation has a presentation showing how water gets from the source to the faucet: “How Water Works”
- Check out the EPA’s drinking water page for games and activities related to ground water and drinking water for K-12. Lots of printouts!
Water for transportation
Rivers were highways long before cars were invented, and ships sailed the ocean long before planes were thought of. Boats used the cutting technology of their day – from steam engines to servo motors — before land or air vehicles did. It’s easy to overlook the importance of water transportation, but even today it’s extremely important for freight.
- Use our cookie geography lesson to see how human settlements grow up around rivers and other navigable bodies of water.
- Explore the science and geography of boats.
- Explore the Steamboat Arabia to get a clearer understanding of the importance of rivers and riverboats in the pioneer era.
- Learn about pirates and Vikings as examples of historical use of water for transportation.
Water for power
Water has supplied energy in many ways throughout history, and it still is an important source of power today.
- Learn about hydroelectric power with our Energy Engineering Lesson Plans.
- Long before hydroelectric power, water wheels drove mills. Check out the War Eagle Grist Mill for an eye-opening virtual field trip.
- Pearson has a nice steam engine animation.
Water for art
People need water for survival, and we’ve used water to get things done, but human beings also like and need to create beauty. See how water connects with culture:
- Cherokee water drums use interesting physical properties of water to create different sounds. The lesson plan at the link includes both science and music.
- Handel’s Water Music is a wonderful piece of music designed specifically to be listened to on a boat. Learn more about this as a good introduction to classical music.
- The Sea King’s Daughter and The Little Mermaid are a couple of watery fairy tales. The Selkie is a folktale and a ballad. Examine ways that the sea has inspired literature with these three stories.
- Chris Witcombe has an interesting lesson on Water in Art that looks at some of the many ways visual arts have used water as a symbol or inspiration. Note: this lesson includes many classical paintings, and the subjects are often nude. Review the lesson before you use it in your classroom to make sure it will be appropriate for your class and community. We’d use it with a projector in classes in which this was appropriate, and use it as an outline with different examples for those in which it was not.