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.
Mars is our neighbor in space, and it has thrilled Earthlings for centuries. We offer three great lesson plans for getting to know this neighbor.
- Look at Mars. This is a project of Google Sky, and you should look at it if nothing else.
- NASA’s Mars page
- NASA’s Mars Rover page
- Interactive Mars habitat
- Basic facts on Mars (there are some ads and no printable version, but it’s good background).
- Earth Sky explains why Mars looks brighter at some times than at others. Right now is a great time to look for Mars! Have students look for Mars as homework and write a description of what they see.
- Astronomy for Kids Mars page
- Look at a Martian dust devil.
- A PDF activity about Mars focuses on the search for water on Mars.
- Scholastic offers an article on how to dress for a trip to Mars.
- DK Eyewitness Books: Mars
- Cars on Mars: Roving the Red Planet
- You Are the First Kid on Mars
- The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity (Scientists in the Field Series) (forthcoming) The inspiring story of the Mars Rover.
- The Adventures of Sojourner : The Mission to Mars That Thrilled the World
- The Hubble Space Telescope
- A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, for some great retro Mars fantasy
- Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars and Freddy and the Men from Mars are more great stories from the days when people expected to meet Martians fairly soon — the whole Freddy the Pig series is a read-aloud hit with younger students.
As this 1924 U.S. Navy telegram offering to listen for expected radio communication from Mars shows, there was a time in the 20th century when people generally believed that there were sentient beings living on Mars. A 19th century astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli, wrote about the “canali” he saw on the surface of Mars. He thought he was seeing channels of water, but some people misinterpreted his Italian word to mean “canals.” This set off a storm of discussion of whether Mars might be inhabited. Schiaparelli wrote of the channels,
Their singular aspect, and their being drawn with absolute geometrical precision, as if they were the work of rule or compass, has led some to see in them the work of intelligent beings… I am very careful not to combat this supposition, which includes nothing impossible.
An American amateur astronomer, Percival Lowell, drew detailed maps of Mars with canals and apparent cities. Artists began to draw Martian cities with spiky towers rising from the red land. While most scientists agreed that Mars showed no particular signs of being inhabited, the idea appealed to enough people that there was widespread belief in Martians. Books and movies about Martians became very popular.
On Sunday, October 30, 1938, there was a radio broadcast of Orson Welles’s adaptation of The War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells. Many listeners missed the introduction, and thought that the program was an actual news broadcast of an invasion by Martians.
In 1965, the Mariner expedition dashed the hopes of all those who wanted to get to know Martians by capturing photos of the surface of Mars which, far from having cool cities linked by canals, looked a lot like our moon.
Since then, photos from the Viking expedition and the Hubble telescope have made it clear that any life on Mars must be very small and not up to building cities. And yet, there are still plenty of people writing about and drawing Martians. Check out the Sesame Street Martians, play math games with the Ratio Martians, and then have students imagine their own Martians.
This activity can involve lots of research and a requirement that the Martians be designed to suit the Martian landscape as shown by NASA (see resources above), or it can be an imaginative art project. Either way, have students draw their Martians, labeling the important features of their drawings, and prepare a bulletin board display of the drawings.
Predictions of Martian colonies have been made for many years. 2030 is one of the years given for the first Martian colony. Have your students calculate their ages in 2030 and imagine themselves among the first Martian colonists.
Students should conduct some research for this project. Some of the things they might consider learning about:
- the terrain of Mars
- the atmosphere and resources of Mars
- the temperature on the surface of Mars
- any signs of weather or seasons on Mars
- colonies and their relationships with their mother countries (if colonial politics seems too old-fashioned to be relevant, students might consider the relationships of the United States and territories such as Puerto Rico as an example)
- life on the space shuttle
Use our Science Fiction Genre Study in preparation, prepare a board of facts on Mars to use in the writing, and have students write a week’s worth of journal entries about their experiences as Martian colonists.
Visit Google Mars. Share this video with students first:
Give students time to explore Mars freely. Then have students create a tour of Mars in Google Earth. This activity can readily be combined with either of the others: have students add pictures of their friendly Martians to their tour, or create a tour showing the places they’ve visited in their early days as colonists.
The Lorax, written by Dr. Seuss in 1971, is the inspiration for a new movie. Seussville has a Lorax Project with discussion questions for the book, printable activity sheets, and ideas for Earth Day. Classroom decorating is easy with Eureka Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax Guide to Green Bulletin Board Set and the Lorax Guide to Green Deco Kit, which has individual bulletin board pieces with environmental tips. All in all, it’s a great time to read The Lorax in your classroom. Read more
Weather mythology is a rich literary genre, with connections to science, critical thinking, and social studies. We saw some great statues of Zeus while we were in Rome.
Here are some of our favorite lesson plans:
Compare Thor and Zeus
Thor is the Thunder God in Norse mythology. He has a magic hammer, a magic belt, and a cart pulled by a pair of billy goats. The sound of his cart is thunder and the hooves of the goats create lightning. When Thor gets angry at trolls, he throws his hammer, which comes back to him like a boomerang. He has two strong sons and a strong wife, and they all enjoy loud feasts and parties. D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths contains several stories about Thor’s adventures.
Zeus was the top god in Greek mythology. He threw thunderbolts (lightning) as weapons. However, he wasn’t in charge of all the weather, since Aeolus saw to the winds and Poseidon was in charge of storms on the ocean. Zeus was, as chief among the gods, much more than a weather god. Jupiter was the Roman god comparable to Zeus, or the Latin name for Zeus. D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths includes a lot of stories about Zeus.
Students often confuse these two guys, but as you can see, there are plenty of differences. Have students prepare a Venn diagram. Follow up by having two students play Zeus and Thor being interviewed by another student on their reaction to the way people mix them up.
Practice research skills by having students look at other thunder gods around the world. Wikipedia has a list of thunder gods that makes a great starting point for research. Divide the different deities among the students in the class and have them present oral reports. Discuss how the differences among the cultures leads to differences in their weather deities.
If your class won’t be completely disrupted by it, it would be fun to let students compete in their presentations to make their weather god seem like the most powerful one.
Compare Thor and — Thor
The new movie, Thor, is based on the Marvel comics hero.The premise is that Thor, the Norse God, has been thrown out of Asgard, the home of the gods, for bad behavior. Set up your Venn diagrams and compare the Thor of Norse mythology with Thor in the Marvel Comics and Thor in the movie — or in the trailer clip below.
Consider examining the visual elements of the movie and the comic books. Do they involve traditional Norse elements, or are they more like typical superheroes?
Myth and Science
The National Earth Science Teacher’s Association has a web page examining cross-cultural weather mythology. At their site, you can compare the mythology with the science facts. Have students create posters showing the weather deities on one side and the scientific explanation on the other.
Weather affects us all, and it’s often in the news these days. Here are some online and print resources for a study of the subject, as well as some favorite lesson plans for introducing weather concepts. At the end of the page, you’ll find a thought-provoking video on the effects of changing weather patterns around the world.
Basic online sources:
- Weather.com’s interactive weather map is an excellent source of current weather data. The Weather Channel has a kids weather page more suited to the youngest students. Weatherspark is our first choice if you want to focus on visual literacy — interpreting graphic representations of data. They have the best charts.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration goes into much more detail. Their education portal has resources ranging from downloadable PDF posters and brochures to slide shows and informational pages. A timely example is their hurricane safety brochure, which presents essential safety measures with a quiz page. There’s also NOAA for Kids.
- NASA is our other favorite online weather info source. They have satellite images of various kinds of weather and great info on weather satellites.
Weather lesson plans:
- Wind Lesson Plans
- Heat Lesson Plans
- Rainbow Lesson Plans
- Snow Lesson Plans
- Online weather module for middle school
Add some books:
- Rain, by Manya Stojic, begins with a parched African landscape. Kids will feel the suspense and excitement as the rain comes.
- The Kids’ Book of Weather Forecasting has lots of hands-on activities.
- Weather Words and What They Mean by Gail Gibbons is a perfect example of her fun and informative style.
- Flash, Crash, Rumble, and Roll is a fact-filled easy reader about storms.
- Hurricane & Tornado is from Dorling Kindersley, so you know it’s a visually stimulating book with lots of information.
- Janice VanCleave’s Weather: Mind-Boggling Experiments You Can Turn Into Science Fair Projects is the perfect next step once you’ve gotten the basic information.
- Weather Thematic Unit from Teacher Created is for younger students.
- Learning Resources – Spotlight On Science Wild Weather Kit has hands-on fun for elementary level.
- Learning Resources Weather Tracker will jazz up morning weather reports for elementary and up.
Some of our favorite lesson plans for studying weather:
- Chart the weather. Use your calendar and TCR’s Weather Stickers to keep it simple, or a Weather Graphing Pocket Chart for reusability.
- Connect weather and preparation in the most basic terms by dressing Carson-Dellosa’s Weather Frog or Scholastic’s Weather Panda in suitable gear each day.
- Make a weather lab. The Franklin Institute has full instructions. If building the lab doesn’t appeal to you, you can use Thames & Kosmos Little Labs Weather Science kit. Like all T&K products, it’s thorough and well-made. The Capsela Weather Station is another economical option.
- Climate change can be an emotional and political topic, but there’s not much point in ignoring it. Check out our climate change lesson plans and our Arctic Triptych unit for activities about how climate change affects weather and thus the people and other living things in the world. Or visit The Ripple Effect to learn about how changes in global weather patterns affect women in developing countries. The video is a thought provoking choice for visual literacy lessons.
For kindergarten, science is about exploration, observation, and wonderful surprises. Get outdoors and try some great summer science experiences with your kids! Many of these will be suited to preK and elementary as well.
- Have each child find a flat object with a clear shape. Lay the objects on black construction paper (poorer quality paper is better in this case — solar paper will make art out of the experience) and set them in the sun. At the same time, set out a piece of white construction paper. Later in the day, go back and see how the sun has faded the area around the object, and left the shape of the object where the paper was protected by the sun.
- You can also put squares of masking tap or yard sale dot stickers onto leaves and see what happens where the sun doesn’t reach them. Don’t have all the students do this to one plant!
- Have each student or group of students line a small box with foil. Inside, put a graham cracker square, a square of milk chocolate (it melts faster than dark chocolate), and a couple of tiny marshmallows. Set the boxes in the sun. After lunch, go out and enjoy the solar s’mores.
- Give kids paint brushes and water and let them make designs on the sidewalk. As the designs fade, discuss how the water they painted with evaporated. Sing “The Eeensy Weensy Spider,” an excellent song about evaporation. (Josepha says, “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” That’s okay, too.)
- Use prisms or color paddles to play with light. Let kids make different colors on the sidewalk or courtyard. Light divides in a prism into the spectrum of colors, but light shining through a color paddle shows only the color of the paddle. Show what happens when you let light shine through more than one panel at a time.
- If you have access to a garden hose with a mister, you can create a rainbow for the kids to admire. Point out that the drops of water do the same thing a prism does.
- Each time you go out for one of these projects, have students stand in the same place and see how tall their shadows are. Have a friend mark the top of each child’s shadow and see how the shadows move as the day goes on.
- When you’ve finished all the solar powered science fun for the day, have children touch the white paper and the black paper and see if one is hotter than the other. Notice that the white paper reflects the light, while the black paper does not. This is why the energy from the sun, in the form of heat, is kept in the paper.