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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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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.

Using Dendrochronology to Determine the Age and Past Environments of the Black Forest Region, Colorado, USA part of Rates and Time:GSA Activity Posters
The use of dendrochronology in determining the geologic history of a location. The development of an understanding how tree growth can indicate the relationships between climate, geomorphology, ecology and archeology.

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

Personal Timeline part of Cutting Edge:Topics:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
Students start this worksheet by listing the most important events in their own lives, plotting them on a timeline, and then doing the same with Earth history events. Usually, their personal timelines will resemble ...

Crater Counting Lab exercise part of Cutting Edge:Topics:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
This lab is designed to teach students how we can estimate the age of other planetary surfaces by counting and size-binning impact craters. It also illustrates some examples of how erosional or deopositional ...

Teaching radioactive decay & radiometric dating: an analog activity based on fluid dynamics part of Cutting Edge:Topics: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, ...

What can zircons tell us about the Early Earth? part of Activities
This image shows an array of Jack Hill zircons arranged on a piece of tape prior to casting in epoxy. Details Students create U-Pb concordia plots in Excel to experience the methods used to date the worlds oldest ...

Describe and Interpret Images: Folded Strata part of Starting Point-Teaching Entry Level Geoscience:Interactive Lectures:Examples
In class, have students make a simple sketch of an outcrop shown in a slide (or computer projection) then discuss possible interpretations. -

Demonstration of radioactive decay using pennies part of Quantitative Skills:Activity Collection
A demonstration (with full class participation) to illustrate radioactive decay by flipping coins. Shows students visually the concepts of exponential decay, half-life and randomness. Works best in large classes – the more people, the better.

Relative Dating of Geologic Materials part of Teacher Preparation:Resource Collections:Activities
This lessons allows students to constuct the basic principals used to understand relative geologic time and the skills used to construct the geologic time scale.

Help a geochronologist part of Geoscience in Two-year Colleges:Activities
This activity allows students to better understand radiometric dating and absolute dating techniques by calculating radiometric ages of zircon crystals. Their calculated ages then serve as tools to practice creating graphs, interpret analytic data, and reconstruct geologic events.

Faint Young Sun, Radiocarbon dating part of Cutting Edge:Early Career:Previous Workshops:Workshop 2010:Teaching Activities
This problem set follows lectures and readings on (1) the Stefan-Boltzmann equation and the greenhouse effect in an n-layer atmosphere and (2) radiometric dating. The goal is for the students to apply equations ...

Drawing unconformities part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
Thess simple sketches are used in class to show the development of different unconformities.

Relative vs. Numerical Dating and Geochronology with Beads part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
Students use relative dating principles to interpret the ages of rocks in a block diagram. They then "date" samples from these rocks to test their relative age hypotheses. Sample dating is done by ...

Calculating the radius of the Earth part of Integrate:Workshops:Teaching the Methods of Geoscience:Activities
Science students often have difficulty thinking about large spatial scales. The purpose of the exercise is to redo Eratosthenes' calculation of the radius of the Earth using data from to sites in ancient Egypt. The excercise teaches about the methodology of science - how Eratothenes figured it out - rather than worried about what the "right" answer is. It can also be used to discuss the role of models in geological thinking.

Discovering the Principles of Relative Age Determination a Think-Pair-Share In-Class Activity part of Integrate:Workshops:Teaching the Methods of Geoscience:Activities
In this in-class activity, students are challenged to identify rock units and geologic features and determine the relative ages of these features without prior instruction in the classical methods of relative age determination.

Tapestry of Time: the Evolution of the North American Continent part of Cutting Edge:Introductory Courses:Activities
In this lecture activity, groups of students use the Tapestry of Time map printed by the USGS to create cross sections that illustrate the growth of the North American continent.

Hotspot Lesson: Relative Dating part of ERESE:ERESE Activities
This lesson explains the application of relative dating for volcanic features in the ocean.

Exploring the nature of geoscience using cartoon cards part of Integrate:Workshops:Teaching the Methods of Geoscience:Activities
In this activity, students work in groups to put a set of cartoon cards in order, much in the way that we might assemble a geologic history. The primary goal of the activity is to explore the nature of science in general and the nature of geoscience or historical science specifically, without requiring any content knowledge.

Learning Assessment #8 - Concept Map (2011) part of Cutting Edge:Introductory Courses:Activities
An end of the term, in-class activity that challenges students to synthesize their understanding of the fundamental concepts taught over the course of the semester - plate tectonics, the rock cycle, geologic time ...