MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Mapping the Glaciers

Mapping the Glaciers

Cathy Oates-Bockenstedt
Central Middle School
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Based on TIMES XIII experiences and sharing
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In this earth systems field lab, students will use Minnesota Geological Survey 3-D maps of the upper Midwest to determine where they believe glaciers may have affected North America. They will determine this by looking at landscapes and compiling their own evidence. They will also offer evidence for a hypothesis they generate which involves the direction that the glacier was traveling.
They will then compare and contrast a glacier with one of our parking lot snow banks, determining any similarities with how the landscape may have appeared during the Pleistocene.

Learning Goals

1. Students will trace the outlines of where they believe glaciers may have traveled, identify landforms that they believe resulted from glacial influence, and they will make a hypothesis about which direction the glaciers traveled.
2. Students will use a graphic organizer to compare and contrast glaciers with the snow banks in our parking lot at school.
Key Concepts:
1. Glacial activity transformed Minnesota's landscape, and evidence in 3-D maps can show the effects.
2. Large snow banks in parking lots can provide current examples of some of the impacts of glaciers.
1. Uplift
2. Weathering and Erosion
3. Outflow
4. Braided Streams

Context for Use

Educational level: Grades 6-8
Class size: 30-35
Institution type: Middle School
It starts as a lab and ends with an outdoor field exercise
How much time is needed for the activity: 2 class periods
Special equipment necessary: Minnesota Geological Survey maps (obtained from the St. Paul Office)
Skills or concepts that students should have already mastered: Use of 3-D glasses and overhead markers on a laminated map, observation skills for outdoor field observations.
How is this activity situated in the course: This activity comes during my Nine week unit on Geology, in the middle of the winter.
How easy (or hard) would it be to adapt the activity for use in other settings: If no snow banks are available, then indoor adaptation idea would be to use a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a sand pit.

Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Geomorphology:Landforms/Processes:Glacial/Periglacial
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Lab Activity, Field Activity
Special Interest: Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: Middle (6-8)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Geomorphology, Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field

Description and Teaching Materials

Title: Mapping the Glaciers Lab
Problem: How were Minnesotan landscapes affected by glaciers?
Prediction: Give an answer to the problem statement above.
Laminated MN Geological Survey Maps
Four overhead markers
3-D glasses
Lab notebook
1. Outline the states on the map in one color.
2. Trace the outline of where you believe the glaciers likely traveled (in a different color).
3. Circle five landforms that you believe resulted from the glaciers. Be able to give evidence.
4. Determine the direction in which you believe the glaciers traveled. Be able to give evidence.
5. Double check your findings with research on the internet.
6. Present your findings to the class.
7. Make detailed observations in your lab notebook on the snow bank in our parking lot.
8. Compare and contrast the snow bank with glaciers.
9. Create a double-bubble chart on snow banks and glaciers.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Notes and Tips:
I have not taught a lesson on glaciers prior to teaching this lesson. It builds on the lessons that I have done on weathering and erosion, and their effects on landscapes. It also satisfies several of the new MN State Science Standards.
Two main pieces of information come to mind. One is the differentiation possibilities for an Enriched Science Course. I will use the 3-D Upper Midwest map for Regular Science. For Enriched Science, I will use it, as well as, the 3-D Mississippi River map and the 3-D The World map. All are available from the Minnesota Geological Survey.
An extension opportunity, which may be enrichment, is to have students build a model of a glacier, using ice cream, which illustrates one main point about glaciers that students learned from this activity.
Observations for Field Investigations need to be very detailed. Since I loop, and therefore have students for two years worth of labs, I have many opportunities to encourage detailed observations. If the snow bank observation will be your first outdoor field observation, then plan for an initial observation activity. Take students outside for an initial observation, for example a half-meter-square area of the school parking lot, to see details about the rock and minerals found on the asphalt. Evaluate their observations, and encourage enhancement and richness of details.


Presentation of findings on MN Geological Survey Maps
Presentation of evidence for glacial activity in Minnesota
Double bubble graphic organizer which compares and contrasts glaciers and snow banks

Analysis Questions for Students:
1. What do you know about snow piles now that you have spent time observing one closely?
2. What are your three main observations about the snow bank?
3. Compare and contrast snow banks with glaciers.
4. How does weather play a role in changing the snow pile?
5. What will happen to the snow pile over time? Outline steps to show the progression of what you think will occur.
6. What happens to the ground underneath a snow pile?

Standards Use maps, satellite images, and other data sets, to describe patterns and make predictions about local and global systems in Earth science contexts. Explain the role of weathering, erosion, and glacial activity in shaping Minnesota's current landscape.

References and Resources