Cutting Edge > Early Earth > Classroom Activities

Activities for teaching about the Early Earth

This collection of activities contains materials used to teach about earth's history, evolution and extinction, geologic timelines, and methods used to date geologic events. We are seeking teaching materials that address early earth topics. Do you have a favorite teaching activity you'd like to share? Please help us expand this collection by sharing your own teaching materials.

You may also find useful information about references and resources for teaching about the early earth and ideas for creating early earth teaching activities.


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M & M Decay part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
This is a simulation of radioactive decay which illustrates what a half-life is and explains some of the challenges involved with radiometric dating. Pennies or other cheap coins can be substituted for M&Ms if ...

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Determining Earthquake Recurrence Intervals from Trench Logs part of Rates and Time:GSA Activity Posters
Trench logs of the San Andreas Fault at Pallett Creek, CA are the data base for a lab or homework assignment that teaches about relative dating, radiometric dating, fault recurrence intervals and the reasons for uncertainty in predicting geologic phenomena. Students are given a trench log that includes several fault strands and dated stratigraphic horizons. They estimate the times of faulting based on bracketing ages of faulted and unfaulted strata. They compile a table with the faulting events from the trench log and additional events recognized in nearby trenches, then calculate maximum, minimum and average earthquake recurrence intervals for the San Andreas Fault in this area. They conclude by making their own prediction for the timing of the next earthquake.

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Roping Geologic Time part of Rates and Time:GSA Activity Posters
After having talked about the geologic time scale, I ask for two volunteers from the class to hold a rope that is 50 feet long. I say that one end is the beginning of the Earth (4.6 billion years ago), and the other is today. I then give out 16 clothes pins and ask various students to put a cloths pin on the 'time line' at various 'geologic events'. Throughout the activity I have a quiz going on where the students calculate percentages of Earth History for major geologic events, and compare it to their own ages. On their time scale, the dinosaurs died only about two 'months' ago! The exercise is very effective at letting them get a sense of how long geologic time is, and how 'recently' some major geologic events happened when you consider a time scale that is the age of the earth.

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The Evolution of Earth through Time part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
This activity is designed for large freshman courses (>200 students) and is used in-class. The activity requires a short (15 minute) overview of Earth history before students have the opportunity to work through ...

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Hierarchical Alignment of Timelines part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
In the hierarchical alignment activity students progressively and hierarchically align scale information to a spatial linear representation. The progressive alignment of scales may alleviate the conceptual ...

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Biozones, stratigraphic log correlation, and corresponding interpretation of paleoenvironments. part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
This exercise is a guided opportunity for any number of students (even hundreds) to start using recently learned, lower-level knowledge about stratigraphy and biostratigraphy in an integrative, interpretation ...

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Hotspot Lesson: Mantle Plumes part of ERESE:ERESE Activities
This lesson introduces the theory of mantle plumes and possible ways of finding evidence to support the theory.

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Relative Age-dating -- Discovery of Important Stratigraphic Principles part of Cutting Edge:Introductory Courses:Activities
Students don't have to be passively taught the important principles geologists use to do relative age-dating of rocks and geologic events. By careful analysis and critical thinking about photos and ...

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The Four-Winged Dinosaur part of Cutting Edge:Early Career:Previous Workshops:Workshop 2010:Teaching Activities
This is assignment is completed in two parts: It begins in class with a showing of the Nova documentary "The Four-Winged Dinosaur." It continues as a homework assignment in which students write a short ...

Illinois through time part of Cutting Edge:Early Career:Previous Workshops:Workshop 2010:Teaching Activities
This assignment serves as an introduction to geologic time, using Illinois as an example. It uses the Paleo Portal website to illustrate each geologic period.

The Cosmic Calendar part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
In this activity, one takes ALL of time, from the beginning of time (i.e., the Big Bang) all the way up to today, but one compresses it into one year. One can do this for all levels of students depending on how ...

Geologic and Navajo Time Line part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
Students develop a time line using registrar tape and correlating marking off divisions of geologic eras. Above this they develop a Navajo time line of creation. Each week they focusing on the topic (era/period) of ...

South Carolina Studies: Bringing the Geologic Time Scale Down to Earth in the Students' Backyard part of Rates and Time:GSA Activity Posters
Students visit Drayton Hall historic plantation near Charleston, South Carolina and are led on a field trip that starts with a discussion of documented historic changes that have affected the mansion and the surrounding property. The field trip continues with a study of Native American artifacts and ends with analysis of coastal plain deposits exposed along the Ashley River. Students use paleogeographic maps to discuss both historic and prehistoric changes to the landscape. Back in the classroom, students gather data to draw paleogeographic maps of their own school site through geologic time.

Teaching radioactive decay & radiometric dating: an analog activity based on fluid dynamics part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
Radiometric dating/geochronology is a difficult concept for students. Using the (rather messy) medium of shampoo, students watch it flow through holes of different sizes, determine the exponential decay equation, ...

Relative Age Correlation part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
Students learn to apply basic correlation principles to geologic cross-sections.

Understanding Geologic Maps part of Cutting Edge:Early Career:Previous Workshops:Workshop 2011:Teaching Activities
Exercise in deconstructing a geologic map & writing a geologic history of the area.

Relative Time Application and Synthesis Exercise part of Cutting Edge:Introductory Courses:Activities
This classroom activity is a formative assessment that explores the degree to which students can apply relative time principles and synthesize that information with concepts related to the rock cycle.

Radiometric Dating part of Quantitative Skills:Activity Collection
This activity leads students through derivations of the equations associated with radiometric dating.

Quantitative Classroom Exercises part of Quantitative Skills:Activity Collection
The four exercises give students an opportunity to use their knowledge of graphs, algebra, and maps to solve simple geological problems.

Be the Block: Working the Geologic Block Diagram as an Inquiry Tool part of Teacher Preparation:Resource Collections:Activities
Working with data, students develop 3-D understandings of Earth structures using inference to construct a block diagram from a collection of 2-D information.

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