Earth and Space Science

Earth Science: Hands-On for Students

I recently taught two lessons to my kindergarten students for the Earth Science course that I am taking. Both of the lessons were about the basic materials that make up the surface of the Earth and how the shape of the Earth’s surface might be altered by forces that we are very familiar with like wind and water. The second lesson was a very hands-on lesson with the potential to be very messy due to the fact that we were combining dirt and water: two items that we generally prefer to keep outside the classroom. However, the experiment was well worth the possible mess because the students were fully engaged in the process of watching how erosion can occur with water. There was even a very magical moment when, as the students were pouring water over our landforms composed of samples of Earth’s materials, a huge rain began to fall outside. It was a really big downpour, and we had to stop the experiment for a few minutes and just watch the rain come down. When we returned to the experiment, the power and value of hands-on activities was really evident to me because under most circumstances it is tricky to regain student attention and focus when something like a rainstorm interrupts a lesson. But in this case, the students transitioned back quickly and became fully focused and engaged in the lesson even though the rain continued to fall outside. I was glad that I had risked the potentially messy lesson. The kids loved it. And I had a good time, too. And it really wasn’t too terribly messy. I am still learning how to conduct hands-on experiments, and it is a bit intimidating because it means that I have to be willing to have things not go exactly how I had planned. That still feels strange. It also means learning how to think like a scientist as a teacher and asking thought provoking questions about the unexpected events that might happen during experiments. It is a whole different kind of teaching experience than teaching from a Teachers Edition for subjects like Reading and Math!

Veronica Winegarner
Veronica Winegarner
1870 Activity Points

Hi Veronica, Sounds like your students really enjoyed your lesson! I loved hands-on projects because you can really see how interested they are in the learning when they actually get to dive in. Once you let go of the notion that learning has to be clean and quiet...you can open so many avenues for learning. Here's to many more messy experiments in your future! :) Annie

Andrea Godsill
Andrea Godsill
1660 Activity Points

Hi Veronica, I understand the need for kinesthetic activities. I teach an eighty minute period to 14 seventh grade boys. The Sciguide on Rocks had an interesting article titled GROWING PEBBLES AND CONCEPTUAL PRISMS - UNDERSTANDING THE SOURCE OF STUDENT MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ROCK FORMATION by Judi Kusnick. This article described an interesting experiment in a geology class in a college. I changed it a bit to introduce a unit on rocks. I directed my students to walk outside in the field and find a pet rock. I specified that it couldn't be bigger than the palm of their hands. I was surprised when there wasn't a lot of rocks in the field, but soon enough they found piles and areas of rocks. My students explored, examined, traded, and looked closely at many rock before choosing their favorite. In the classroom, the students put their rocks on their desks and were given a writing prompt taking from the article: Write the history of your pet rock. How did it form and where? How did it get to where you found it? Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you know anything about rocks yet - this is supposed to be just a guess. Next time, I would also say think as if you were a geologist. Some students put in a lot of thought. Some students thought that their rocks came from space, volcanoes, a large mountain, a bigger boulder... They also engaged in great conversations about how old the Earth is and what kinds of minerals are in rocks. It's a great what do you know activity. I think it could be adapted for kindergarten to the university.

Erin Mendelson
Erin Mendelson
2680 Activity Points

This is also like a paper lab, inexpensive if you can get pizza boxes donated, expensive if you have to purchase. Have the students bring the marshmallows (mini), graham crackers and chocolate chips (melt faster than bars) One of the ideas I have used to demonstrate energy and heat was to make small solar ovens out of pizza boxes. The only problems I have encountered are that the topic occurs in my pacing around November and that is the rainy season here in Hawaii and its hard to find a sunny day to heat the s'mores. And that the classes in the early am, because the sun is not as high in the sky, don't get to have any real heat in the class period. Every year I say I am going to change it to the beginning of the year, but I forgot again this year! How to Build a Pizza Box Solar Oven - This small solar oven is ideal for heating s'mores, warming store-bought cookies or biscuits. www.nrel.gov/education/solar_oven.html (This link was not working last time I checked)

Andrea Medrano
Andrea Medrano
1075 Activity Points

I absolutely love the ideas shared on this thread. I find these activities to be very fun and hands on, while still serving a purpose. I think the most important thing we need to remember is why we are doing a lesson. While some things may seem fun to do in the class, it needs to align with the state standards or there is no need to even do the lesson. I think the students would love these hands on lessons, and would gain a lot of content knowledge when expanded upon with research, discussions, and literacy connections. Taking the hands-on activities and incorporating cross curricular material will lead to a very powerful lesson.

Danyelle Hanes
Danyelle Hanes
855 Activity Points

I learned early on that hands-on lessons are the only ones that will get all students involved, from the most academic to the most "challenging". The only problem was that sometimes I had problems getting students to tie the hands-on part back to the content we were learning - too much fun not enough thought (unfortunately!!). I did some training last summer and the summer before on ways to help students reflect on the hands-on part and what it means and I also added homework where they got extra credit if they could come back the next day with "real world" examples of what we were doing (for example, after Veronica's lesson they might look for erosion from the rain on the way home from school and someone came back and said "along the side of the street in the gutter the sand has all kinds of little streams in it like the ones we made yesterday" !!!) As far as the reflections goes, these are a few articles I collected because they reminded me of the trainings I went to. Even though I teach middle school, I found these Science & Children articles very helpful because many of my students have never been taught to do this or think this way and these provide a nice introduction. Are there any other ways we can make sure that our hands-on activities are good learning activities as well as fun?


Helping Students to be Science Literate - Elementary Collection
(25 items)
External Resource - Heinemann Publishers - Writing in Science site
     -User Uploaded Resource
Rev Up Your Veggies! Building model race cars lets students explore physical science concepts and promotes cooperative learning
     -Journal Article
Student-Centered Notebooks
     -Journal Article

Tina Harris
Tina Harris
65805 Activity Points

I like your idea of you giving them extra credit for applying their hands on activities to the real world. I really think that will be important for the students to do because at least they have a better understanding of their lesson and activity. I have them do an activity write up which they are really good at doing. They have a reflectiont that they have to write and I know that the next time I give them a reflection I'll ask them how they can relate it to the real word.

Kelly Amendola
Kelly Amendola
10320 Activity Points

I love the classroom experiences you all are sharing about how hands-on activities have engaged your students in key science concepts! Thanks for sharing. Some of the points you brought up are important to remember, Veronica. For example, I have wondered if I should stop the lesson - for the lessons in the moment. How phenomenal that the downpour occurred at such an opportune time in the activity! (You really planned it to happen that way, right?) I recall one year when I was teaching catastrophic events in IL AND we were online at an earthquake site, when an earthquake was being recorded in CA near where my daughter lived. My students wanted to know if she could feel the quake. I picked up my cell phone and called her. She shared her in-the-moment experience. Most of my students had never experienced a quake. They were so excited - that the online site was recording actual events and that my daughter was describing everything they had been learning as it was happening during that minor earthquake. We then classified what kind of quake it was based on the observations of my daughter. They couldn't wait to make their earthquake proof structures and try them out on my earthquake-shake table. It's hard to replicate a downpour or earthquake at the exact moment you might need it - but be ready to seize that moment! Maybe you'll get lucky and your principal will walk in...

Carolyn Mohr
Carolyn Mohr
86423 Activity Points

Cheska contacted me for ideas for hands-on labs for weathering and erosion that did NOT involve food (darn - those are my favorites!). Some labs I have used with students or in programs with children in the past are now listed below. I also am posting a PowerPoint I modified from an earlier presentation I did for GSA and one I used for a quick review of erosion with my 7th graders. I just wish I had taken more pictures while my students were doing their presentations!! For these activities, we did one model together then discussed as a class what the different variables might be that effected the outcomes. Each group of students then chose a variable and designed a lab to test it. They collected data, analyzed it, and prepared a presentation for the class over the results and what they would change the next time.

Tina Harris
Tina Harris
65805 Activity Points

There are also a couple really nice collections on weather and erosion - mine is a little cluttered because I was collecting things I wanted to review when I modified my lessons and so it includes things other than labs. http://learningcenter.nsta.org/my_learning_center/my_library.aspx?cid=T/wxtRYMAYM_E http://learningcenter.nsta.org/my_learning_center/my_library.aspx?cid=epvokyWcrME_E http://learningcenter.nsta.org/my_learning_center/my_library.aspx?cid=rLqeGHlwrko_E

Tina Harris
Tina Harris
65805 Activity Points

Hi Veronica,
I am so thrilled for you and your students that Hands-On Inquiry learning was such a successful endeavor for you! Many science educators are hesitant to take that plunge - and some for good reason. Behavior issues, administrative questions and colleagues tilting their heads as they wonder if instruction is taking place.

I'd love to share a couple of my favorite earth science lessons with you - as always, these are lessons I that have been shared with me over my years as a classroom teacher from student teachers, colleagues, NSTA conferences and journals. I always tweak a bit every school year, depending on my students.

Enjoy, Alyce

Alyce Dalzell
Alyce Dalzell
64075 Activity Points

A couple of my favorite resources are Project WET and Project WILD. Both are full of hands-on activities. WET focuses on water, and WILD on terrestrial ecosystems. WILD is very appropriate for the younger ones, and WET has activities K-12, with most activities being very adaptable.

Jennifer Rahn
Jennifer Rahn
67935 Activity Points

Jennifer, Thank you for reminding me about Project WET. I haven't seen Project WILD but plan to look into it. I'm currently looking for possible teacher PD for the education program at a children's museum and think this might be perfect! Thanks! Kendra

Kendra Young
Kendra Young
17180 Activity Points

Yes, it is a great program for informal educators as well. The local Girl Scout council usually makes one or the other available each year for leaders and adults providing programs through a local nature center.

Jennifer Rahn
Jennifer Rahn
67935 Activity Points

Hi Veronica, You're very brave to try a hands-on lesson that had the potential to get very messy! I'm glad that your students were very engaged despite the downpour! I know as teachers we strive to be in control in our classrooms and feel uneasy when our lessons take unexpected turns. However, I feel that when our students take the lesson in a different direction, that is when our students are most engaged. The students have become so engaged in the lesson that they are thinking like scientists and have become genuinely curious.

Juliet Kim
Juliet Kim
2330 Activity Points

This is such a great idea, students are able to remember concepts such as erosion better after something like this (and who doesn't love to play in the mud?). I'm sure this lesson helped the students concretely understand this topic. Way to take risks! Also all of these other hands-on ideas are awesome, this is how science lessons should be.

Kelli Stokes
Kelli Stokes
1500 Activity Points

We use marshmallow cream and graham crackers to show plate movement and the upper mantle. The marshmallow makes the graham crackers slide easily, and stick where we want them. We used to use candy bars, but it was too messy.

Stacy Holland
Stacy Holland
6865 Activity Points

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