Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Focus on Geology: Bringing Rocks to Life in the Classroom

Fossilized Leaf. Photo from Earth & Space Science.

Fossilized Leaf. Photo from Earth & Space Science.

You search, we listen. “Rocks” is one of the most frequent search terms on learner.org, so we are highlighting resources for teaching about rocks in this curriculum focus.

Students discover different types of rocks and how rocks change with the Rock Cycle Interactive. Students build geological vocabulary, name the different parts of the rock cycle, and take an assessment at the end. This activity is great for independent study in the classroom and at home.

Students learn how melting rock deep inside the earth forms volcanoes with the Volcanoes Interactive. They practice raising and lowering the temperature of rocks to experience how rocks respond to temperature inside the earth.

The Habitable Planet, unit 1, “Many Planets, One Earth,” section 3, Reading Geologic Records, explains how scientists use rocks and fossils to define geologic time phases in Earth’s history on a geologic time scale. Rocks and fossils tell the story of Earth’s animal and environmental history.

What are igneous rocks and how are they formed? Earth and Space Science, session 3, “Journey to the Earth’s Interior,” compares extrusive and intrusive igneous rocks, and relates lava to the movement of tectonic plates. This workshop includes an activity for teachers to identify young students’ ideas about the structure of the earth, ideas that help inform science lessons.

More resources for teaching about rocks:

Essential Science for Teachers: Earth & Space Science, session 2, “Every Rock Tells a Story
Session 5, “When Continents Collide

Earth Revealed, program 10, “Geologic Time”
Earth Revealed, program 14, “Intrusive Igneous Rocks”
Earth Revealed, program 17, “Sedimentary Rocks: The Key to Past Environments”
Earth Revealed, program 18, “Metamorphic Rocks”

Physical Geography: Examining Earth’s Lithosphere

globeundermicroscopeDestructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions often make headlines and prompt humanitarian relief efforts, though the forces that cause these events are, in fact, mundane and constant. Explore the physical processes operating in the lithosphere, the outer part of the earth that is the base of our continents and oceans. Dig into the following resources to learn about the role of plate tectonics in natural events such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and how humans respond to the risks related to these events.

First, understand the workings of the tectonic plates. Students can study the structure of the lithosphere and plate tectonics using the Dynamic Earth interactive. Find maps of tectonic plates and explore how an earthquake in one area of the world can cause a tsunami in another.

In Earth and Space Science, session 4, “The Engine That Drives the Earth,” join scientists and students as they explore the forces behind volcanoes and earthquakes.

Next, examine humans’ relationship with the land. Witness how the small fishing island of Heimaey, Iceland saved its port from an erupting volcano in 1973. Watch the second half of program 6, “Challenges in the Hinterlands,” from The Power of Place. Start at 14:05 in the video.

Geographers study Tungurahua, a volcano in Ecuador, in order to prevent future tragedies after eruptions. Watch this case study in the second half of workshop 2, “Latin America,” of Teaching Geography. Start at 28:40 in the video.

Additional resources for teaching about the lithosphere:

Earth and Space Science, session 5, “When Continents Collide

Earth Revealed, program 6, “Plate Dynamics” and program 13, “Volcanism”

Learner Express, 40 short video clips with accompanying text. Ten videos on volcanoes and 13 on plate tectonics.

Image copyright: Serp / 123RF Stock Photo

Reading Rocks to Meet New Science Standard (4th Grade)


4th grader David explains the layers of a rock.

This summer educational resource publishers, providers of curriculum and assessment management systems and, of course teachers, are scrambling to unpack, understand, and integrate the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in preparation for the coming school year. Are you ready?

The NGSS are an outgrowth of the Framework for K-12 Science Education that envisions 21st century science education in light of new science knowledge, technological advances, the need for in-depth scientific literacy and for high school graduates who are prepared to pursue scientific careers.

Grade-level standards are developed around Disciplinary Core Ideas for each area of scientific study. For example, within Earth Systems Science (ESS) is this Core Idea: ESS1.C: The History of Planet Earth– Local, regional, and global patterns of rock formations reveal changes over time due to earth forces, such as earthquakes. The presence and location of certain fossil types indicate the order in which rock layers were formed.

If you are a 4th grade teacher, your students are expected to be able to do the following by the end of the year: 4-ESS1-1. Identify evidence from patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers for changes in a landscape over time to support an explanation for changes in a landscape over time.


Before you mount a search for your college geology textbook, give yourself an hour with Earth and Space Science, session 2, “Every Rock Tells a Story.” As you watch the video, join Dr. Carol de Wet to look at rock pinnacles in southern Pennsylvania. Observe characteristics that tell the story of how the rocks were formed and what they have to say about the history of the earth.  In the process, learn about the myriad concepts that are packed into one little two-sentence standard.

In addition, observe students doing some rigorous thinking about how rocks are formed and how fossils are created. One of the best aspects of these segments is the way they illustrate how students use prior knowledge, and sometimes misconceptions, to formulate theories. A recent study conducted by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics revealed that teachers who are aware of students’ misconceptions about scientific concepts have students who perform better on measures of success. A misconception revealed creates a highly teachable moment. The children’s ideas pointed out in session 2 will inspire ideas to help your students read the rocks around them and to be ready for the next step: ESS2.B: Plate Tectonics and Large-Scale System Interactions

Enhancing your scientific understanding in areas that are, um, a little rocky for you, is a sound investment in student success. Carbon into diamonds. Go for it!