UNIT: THE PHYSICAL STRUCTURE OF THE EARTH

© Rick Kephart

I believe it is very important for children to learn about the world in which we live. I had recently heard about a college student whose friend had been hurt, in Japan, so he was going to drive to Japan to see him! This is the geographical knowledge of a college student? I want to help students understand where things are in the world. This unit is designed to do precisely that, by helping children to visualize and comprehend the world as a unified whole, composed of several different parts: a holistic approach to geography.

As a result of this unit, children should be able to locate and describe major components of the Earth, both interior and exterior. They should be able to describe and illustrate those structures, and explain the formation of continents and other major physical features of the planet.

The unit begins with the rote learning of the names and locations of the continents. The name and features of the layers of the Earth are also learned at the beginning. These must necessarily precede the other lessons as background knowledge. These are followed by three lessons on Continental Drift Theory: the evidence for the theory, the history of it and the theory itself, and the scientific recreation of the sequence of events producing the modern continents. From there, volcanos, mountains, and earthquakes can be explained and understood. Finally, for English children, the formation of their own British Isles must not be overlooked.

Since this is a Church School, it seemed fitting to use a short Bible reading as a motivational tool. I would use Genesis 1:9-10, in which it states that God put all the land in one place, and the water in another. "How could that be true, and our maps and globes be accurate?"


Vocabulary


Africa               | fossil
Antarctica           | glacier
Asia                 | Gondwanaland
Atlantic Ocean       | Ice Age
Australia            | Laurentia
British Isles        | lava
continent            | magma
Continental Drift    | mantle
core                 | North America
crust                | Pacific Ocean
dome mountain        | Pangaea
earthquake           | plate
Europe               | South America
fault-block mountain | Tethys Sea
folded mountain      | volcano

Lesson #1: The 7 Continents

Monday,23 November, 1987 11.45-12.30

Objectives:

  1. Children will be able to name the 7 continents.
  2. They will be able to identify them when shown them on a world map.
  3. They will be able to locate them when given the name.

Materials: 1.World map, 2.Globe, 3.Chart with outlines of the continents, 4.Children's Geography notebooks and colored pencils, 5.Atlases and other reference books, 6.Papers with continents' names.

Procedure:

  1. Ask "What is a continent?" (a large body of land, usually separated by water, or by mountains in the case of the Ural Mts. separating Europe from Asia.)
  2. Point them out on the world map and globe, then give a brief introduction to each:
    1. Europe: contains England, France, Spain, Germany, etc.
    2. Asia: mention Siberia, China, India
    3. Africa: jungle, Sahara, Egypt
    4. North America: USA, Canada, Mexico; across Atlantic Ocean
    5. South America: Spanish and Portuguese languages, Indians, Brazil, Peru (play Peruvian Inca song on guitar)
    6. Australia: island, desert, kangaroos, koala; in Pacific Ocean
    7. Antarctica: frozen
  3. List names on the board, have children copy them in notebooks, practice reciting ("Who can name them all?")
  4. Children take turns coming up and pointing to a continent on the world map, call on someone to name them. Answerer gets the next turn.
  5. Same activity, but the child names the continent and calls on someone to point to it.
  6. Children use outline chart to make rough outlines of the continents in their notebooks, color and label them (also Atlantic and Pacific Oceans).
  7. For those who finish: they pick a continent at random by choosing a slip of paper. They can then go to reference book(s) (atlas, encyclopedia) and see how many facts not mentioned in class that they can find out about it.
Evaluation: All children should be able to participate in #4 & #5 above, and accurately label the continents in their notebooks.

Lesson #2: The Earth's Interior

Wednesday, 25 November 11.00-11.45

Objectives:

  1. Children will be able to name and describe the 3 principle layers of the Earth.
  2. Children will understand the effects of the Earth's magnetism.
Materials: 1.Diagram of the inside of the Earth, 2.Children's notebooks and colored pencils, 3.modeling clay, 4.bar magnet, 5.compass

Procedure:

  1. Point out the 3 layers and describe each.
    1. Crust: thin outer surface, about 40 miles deep, all continents and oceans are here
    2. Mantle: very thick middle layer, about 2,000 miles deep, 2000-4500°, great pressure
    3. Core: center, some liquid and some solid due to pressure, iron and nickel
  2. Explain that we know whether zones are solid or liquid by studying earthquakes: shock waves travel differently.
  3. Electric currents are produced in the liquid core. This produces a magnetic field. That is why a compass works.
  4. Children draw, color, and label the interior of the Earth in their notebooks. Then they write something they learned about each layer.
  5. Using the bar magnet and modeling clay, children begin to form a model of the Earth. The 3 layers are done in 3 different colors. When built, outlines of the continents can be carved into it. The magnet will simulate the magnetic field produced by the Earth's core, and affect a compass. This will take more than one day to complete.
  6. To think about: "Nobody has ever been able to get through the crust of the Earth. How, then, have we come to believe that the core is made up of iron and nickel?" (to be answered the next day: meteorites)
Evaluation: All children should be able to list at least one or two facts about each layer of the Earth.

Lesson #3:Continental Drift Evidence

Thursday,26 November 11.00-12.30

Objectives:

  1. Children will be able to describe the significance of fossils with regard to Continental Drift Theory.
  2. Children will demonstrate the possibility of the initial breaking off of continents by constructing their own hypothetical initial state of the continents.
Materials: 1.Children's notebooks and pencils, colored pencils, scissors, paste or tape, 2.Fossil and books about fossils and other reference books, 3.Outline maps of continents

Procedure:

  1. Ask "What is a fossil?" Show the fossil in class, and pictures of fossils in books. Discuss what fossils are, where they came from, and why they are important. Then discuss how the finding of similar fossils on different continents is important to the theory.
  2. Point out on the map how some of the continents seem to fit together like a puzzle (most obviously, South America and Africa), and how that seems to show that they must originally have been connected.
  3. Children color each continent on the outline maps a different color and cut them all out, then fit them together as they think they may originally have been, and glue them in place.
  4. Children draw the fossil shown in class, or one from a book, and write what a fossil is.
  5. Answer the following questions:
Evaluation: The children's reconstruction should show one large mass of land. They should be able to answer the questions in #5 above.

Lesson #4 Continental Drift Theory

Friday, 27 November 1.30-2.00

Objective: Children will be able to explain the history and significance of Continental Drift Theory.

Materials: 1.Children's notebook and pencils, 2.Books about Christopher Columbus

Procedure:

  1. Explain the historical background of the theory: Before Columbus, all the land was thought to be in the same part of the world. A controversy develops over the Earth's history:
  2. Wegener in the 1920's proposed the Continental Drift Theory (which took a half-century to gain popular acceptance).
  3. The theory states that the continents are on 14 slowly-moving plates (draw some on the chart of the continents), moving in various directions. When they rub against each other, they can cause earthquakes. Volcanos can also occur there. Plates can also crash into each other.
  4. Children write in their own words the origin and significance of the theory, and what it states.
  5. If they finish, they can read a book about Columbus, and explain how his voyages changed the current world-view.

Evaluation: Children should be able to write at least one page describing the theory and its origin.


Lesson #5: The Break-up of Pangaea

Monday, 30 November 11.45-12.30

Objective: Children will be able to demonstrate the scientists' reconstruction of the sequence of the formation of the continents.

Materials: 1.Series of pictures showing the sequence of major events, 2.Children's notebooks, pencils, colored pencils

Procedure:

  1. Show and describe the principle phases:
    1. All the continents form Pangaea (pan - "all, whole" + ge - "earth")
    2. Pangaea splits into Laurentia to the north and Gondwanaland to the south (named for locations of fossil finds), separated by the Tethys Sea (formation of oil fields, later to become the Atlantic Ocean).
    3. Laurentia and Gondwanaland break up into the modern continents as eastern and western hemispheres form, Africa turns slightly, Antarctica continues south.
    4. Greece, Italy, and India break off and move north to join Europe and Asia.
  2. Children draw flow charts in notebooks, labeling and coloring the rough locations of the continents at each stage, and writing captions under each picture describing what is happening.
  3. Those who finish early can see what they can learn from reference books on the formation of oil, and write about it.

Evaluation: The flow chart in the notebooks should show the correct sequence of events.


Lesson #6: Earthquakes and Volcanos

Tuesday, 1 December 11.45-12.30

Objectives:

  1. Children will be able to explain what causes earthquakes.
  2. Children will be able to explain what causes volcanos.
  3. Children will be able to describe the effects of each.

Materials: 1.Table with books and things on it, 2.List of questions, 3.Children's notebooks, pencils

Procedure:

  1. Slide table across rough floor, making things on it fall.
  2. Explain how that is like what happens when plates rub against each other.
  3. Second experiment: rub hands together slowly -- hands move with a jerky motion like the plates which causes earthquakes.
  4. Draw diagram of a fault on the board, and explain it.
  5. Draw diagram of a volcano on the board, especially pointing out the difference between magma and lava.
  6. Show how volcanos and earthquakes occur along divisions between plates, and explain why that happens.
  7. Children draw the 2 pictures on the board in their notebooks, and label them.
  8. Children answer the following questions from the chart:
    1. Where do most earthquakes and volcanos occur?
    2. What is a fault?
    3. Why do earthquakes occur?
    4. Why are earthquakes dangerous?
    5. Can anything good come from earthquakes?
    6. What is the difference between magma and lava?
    7. Why do volcanos occur?
    8. Why are volcanos dangerous?
    9. Can anything good come from volcanos?
    10. Why would some people want to live in places where there is the danger of earthquakes or volcanos?
    11. What might people do to protect themselves in places where there are something earthquakes?
  9. Those who finish may look in reference books to find more information about volcanos, such as "What were some famous volcanos?" "How much damage can one do?"

Evaluation: Questions (especially 3,4,7,8) answered correctly.


Lesson #7: Mountains

Wednesday, 2 December 11.45-12.30

Objective: Children will be able to describe 3 ways in which mountains can be formed, and distinguish between them.

Materials: 1.modeling clay, 2.Children's notebooks, pencils

Procedure:

  1. Mention that earthquakes aren't the only things that can happen when plates meet. Besides rubbing, they can also crash into each other!
  2. Children, working in pairs, model Asia and India with modeling clay. Then they crash them into each other, and observe what happens. When they think they know, they write it down (forms mountains). Then they can try to find those mountains on a globe or atlas (Himalaya Mountains).
  3. Demonstrate for the class how the other 2 types of mountains are formed, using modeling clay. Also draw the 3 types on the board and name them:
    1. Folded mountains: formed when plates collide
    2. Fault-block mountains: formed from cracking and sliding (review earthquakes)
    3. Dome mountains: formed from pressure below surface (review volcanos)
  4. Children draw and label the 3 kinds of mountains, and write how each of the three are formed.
  5. Those who finish may look at maps or atlases and find mountains and try to figure out how they may have been formed.

Evaluation: Descriptions of how the mountains are formed should show a clear distinction between the three.


Lesson #8: The British Isles

Thursday, 3 December 11.45-12.30

Objective: Children will be able to describe the formation of the British Isles.

Materials: 1.Clear-sided container (aquarium), 2.modeling clay model of Europe & British Isles, 3.Water, 4.Children's notebooks and pencils

Procedure:

  1. Briefly describe the Ice Age.
  2. Show how the melting ice formed the British Isles by slowly adding water to the model.
  3. Illustrate it again up on the board.
  4. Children draw it and describe in their notebooks how the British Isles were formed, beginning with Pangaea.

Evaluation: Description, especially at the end, should be accurate and precise.


Summary (included at the end of this lesson)

  1. Name the continents, and write something about each one (a country on that continent or some fact about it).
  2. Draw a diagram of the 3 layers of the Earth and label them.
  3. Name 2 kinds of evidence for Continental Drift.
  4. Why is Mr Wegener important?
  5. Describe what a plate is.
  6. What do these words mean: Pangaea, Laurentia, Gondwanaland, Tethys Sea?
  7. What causes earthquakes?
  8. What is a volcano?
  9. List the 3 kinds of mountains, and write what causes each.
  10. Where did the water come from that separates the British Isles from the rest of Europe?

Bibliography

(some are rather old, but are the best available here for use)

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