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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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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 ...

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 ...

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.

South Carolina Studies: Bringing the Geologic Time Scale Down to Earth in the Students' Backyard part of NAGT:Teaching Resources:Teaching in the Field:Field Trip Collection
South Carolina Studies - Bringing the Geologic Time Scale Down to Earth in the Students' Backyard: John R. Wagner, Clemson University Intended Audience: This exercise is suitable for the general public, though ...

JiTT - Neanderthals and Modern Humans part of Starting Point-Teaching Entry Level Geoscience:Just in Time Teaching:Examples
1) What are Neanderthals? How do they differ from modern humans? 2) Discuss some of the new ideas as to why early human ancestors dispersed from Africa. 3) What are DNA studies telling us about human migrations and ...

JiTT - Cambrian Explosion part of Starting Point-Teaching Entry Level Geoscience:Just in Time Teaching:Examples
1) How do scientists come up with the number 2 billion years ago for the first branch of life? Explain the dating technique and information that is used. 2) Describe the evidence AGAINST the Cambrian Explosion. ...

Time and Earth History Socratic Questions part of Starting Point-Teaching Entry Level Geoscience:Socratic Questioning:Examples
Time and Earth History sample Socratic questions and answers. -

Jurassic Park Debate part of Starting Point-Teaching Entry Level Geoscience:Role Playing:Examples
This role-playing exercise casts students as scientific specialists, assigned to a group either supporting or opposing the cloning of dinosaurs. Each group researches and presents its argument. -

Using Popcorn to Simulate Radioactive Decay part of Quantitative Skills:Activity Collection
Popping popcorn in your class is an excellent way to illustrate both the spontaneity and irreversible change associated with radioactive decay. It helps students to understand the unpredictability of decay.

M&M Model for Radioactive Decay part of Quantitative Skills:Activity Collection
A tasty in-class demonstration of radioactive decay using two colors of M&M's. Illustrates the quantitative concepts of probability and exponential decay. This activity is appropriate for small classes (<40 students).

Back-of-the-Envelope Calculations: Earth History Timeline part of Quantitative Skills:Activity Collection
Question The Earth is about 4.6 billion years old. Let's try to get a perspective on how long that really is. A roll of good quality toilet paper has 1000 squares. If the roll of toilet paper represents the ...

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.

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.

Gallery Walk Questions about Time and Earth History part of Starting Point-Teaching Entry Level Geoscience:Gallery Walks:Examples
created by Mark Francek, Central Michigan University The following are potential questions that could be used in a gallery walk activity about time and earth history. The questions are organized according to the ...

Teaching Geoscience with Video Snips part of Cutting Edge:Enhance Your Teaching:Videos:Activities
Video snips are short video segments of live footage of geologic processes (settling sand, cleaving minerals, or landslides) used to engage students, foster discussion, and stimulate higher order thinking skills. ...

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.

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

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.