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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Toilet Paper Analogy for Geologic Time part of Quantitative Skills:Activity Collection
An in class demonstration of the vastness of geologic time using a 1000-roll sheet of toilet paper and unrolling it around the room.

Earth's history in 4.56 meters: constructing a timeline with calculator tape part of Quantitative Skills:Activity Collection
An activity where students make a geologic timeline from calculator tape.

Presenting the Geologic Timescale part of Starting Point-Teaching Entry Level Geoscience:Interactive Lecture Demonstrations:Examples
This project has students model the geologic timescale using distance as a metaphor for time. Students give presentions spaced at distances which represent how far apart in time the events occurred. -

GEOLogic: Lagerstatten and Unique Fossils part of Quantitative Skills:Activity Collection
Students are asked to match up several unique fossils with the site and location where it was found and it's geologic age.

GEOLogic: The Big Five Mass Extinctions part of Quantitative Skills:Activity Collection
Students are asked to match up the five largest mass extinction events with their relative dates, approximate duration, and severity (percentage of species that became extinct) based on clues given from various perspectives.

GEOLogic: Dinosaur Trackways part of Quantitative Skills:Activity Collection
Students must associate different dinosaur trackways with their locations and the rock formations containing the trackways based on clues given from various points of view.

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

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.

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 ...

When and How Did Continental Crust Form? part of Cutting Edge:Petrology:Teaching Examples
Many models have been proposed regarding the timing and mechanisms that first formed the continental crust. The purpose of this exercise is to help students explore the question of crustal genesis and evolution ...

Modeling U-Series Concordia/Discordia Using STELLA part of Rates and Time:GSA Activity Posters
U-Series dating techniques are widely used to determine the absolute ages of some of Earth's oldest rocks, but the concordia/discordia diagram can be quite difficult for students to grasp. I have produced a STELLA-based lab exercise to develop students' understanding of this important chronologic technique. Students create models of the two isotopic decay systems and run these models to create the concordia diagram. They then carry out experiments in which they "add" or "remove" varying amounts of lead or uranium in simulation of metamorphism. In the course of the lab, students are introduced to the concepts of exponential decay and secular equilibrium as well as modeling concepts such as the creation of if-then statements.

Learning Landscapes: RIVERS part of Rates and Time:GSA Activity Posters
Learning Landscapes provides historic "geo-images" of Rivers and Slopes. Students work at their own pace through a series of on-line images with directed questions and expert answers for each image. Images stem in most part from the University of Vermont's Landscape Change Program archive. Preliminarily, we have found that students relate to local images of New England, use the site as a resource, relate image content to course field laboratories, and relate images to their previous knowledge.

How much is a million? How big is a billion? part of Rates and Time:GSA Activity Posters
We constructed a geologic timeline along a 5K road-race route across the MSU campus at a scale of 1 meter = 1 million years, using signage to mark important events in the history of life. In addition to over 1500 race participants, numerous casual observers were exposed to the timeline. This project works well in the classroom at a scale of 1 mm = 1 million years, and as a manageable one-day outdoor sidewalk chalk activity at a scale of 1" = 1 million years. Timelines drawn to scale lead the observer to the inescapable conclusions that "simple" life appeared early in Earth history; that it took the bulk of Earth history to achieve the next, multi-cellular stage of development; and that once the metazoan threshold was crossed, subsequent biological diversification-and the resulting fossil record-followed in rapid succession.

Diverse: Field, role play, storytelling, puzzle, cooperative, information systems part of Rates and Time:GSA Activity Posters
Multiple activities--see the poster

Implementing A Constructivist Teaching Model For Conceptualizing Geologic Time part of Rates and Time:GSA Activity Posters
The activity fosters middle learning students critical thinking and allows for student generated essential questions to further their understanding of Earth's history and geologic time.

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.

Greenstone Belt Assessment part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
Students examine and describe rocks found as part of a geologic sequence formed during the Precambrian Era and determine the geologic significance of each of the rocks in order. The capstone (not included on the ...

Geologic Time Discussion Analogies part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
This is 4 ppt slides used to facilitate discussion w/students about the immensity of geologic time. I ask them a series of leading questions and try to get them to do "mental math" in order to grasp the ...

Cyclostratigraphy and astrochronology exercise part of Cutting Edge:Rates and Time:Teaching Activities
Simple classroom activity to highlight how cyclostratigraphy and concepts of astronchronology can be used to refine age control in sedimentary rocks, estimate rates of processes, and for time control and ...