Earth Science: Plate Movement Hands-On Activities

We just love hands-on activities! We’ve been studying Earth Science this fall.  Back several weeks ago, we explained how we started this unit… with an overview of our solar system, then a closer look at Earth’s geologic timeline talking about the age of the Earth (4.6 billion years) and the appearance of various critters in the geologic timeline (trilobites, sharks, dinosaurs, ants and more). We also l learned about latitude, longitude and how to use a compass.

As I was going back through my pictures, I realized that I never shared our pictures from when we learning about finding compass points. When the weather was nice in October, we went outside and the kids practiced making their own compass rose:

CompassRose

Here are some step-by-step pictures of the kids making the compass rose. You can see some of our previous activities here in htis post: Latitude, Longitude and Using a Compass. (Obviously these weren’t taken this week with temperatures plummeting into the 20s and 30s!!)

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After that, we started looking at plate tectonics. According to a theory developed in the early 20th century, the super-continent Pangaea formed about 300 million years ago.  The continent began breaking apart about 100 million years ago.  We traced and cut out the continents and moved them around to see how they best fit together. Then we looked closely at the picture of Pangaea (on a notebook page I made for the kids… which I’ll share once it’s polished and ready!). Each of the kids had their own set of continents (which is why there are yellow and white continents in the picture below):

Pangaea-675x588

 

When we studied plate tectonics several years ago, we did this activity with paper to show how the continents could move without our touching them.  This was perfect for the kids at that age (DD was about 5 and LD was 7), since it let them “see” the continents move without our touching them. I cut the continents out of foam. The kids folded construction paper. First we set the continents close together with a piece of playdough to weight the continents down. As the kids pulled each side of the construction paper, they could see the continents move apart. We got this idea from Robert Gardners” Earth-Shaking Science Projects About Planet Earth.

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We did this activity again with several of the continents and of course the kids took turns “moving” the continents apart over and over!

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This time around, we into much more depth about the mechanics of plate tectonics. We went over the evidence for there having been a super-continent (geologic evidence, fossil evidence and climate studies).  We also talked in some depth about convection currents that occur deep within the Earth as the heated rock rises cools, sinks and is heated again.  We did a couple of activities to help the kids really understand how this movement of heated rock helped geologists develop the theory of plate tectonics.

Materials to have on hand: 

  • 2 sponges cut into the shape of South America and Africa
  • 3 push pins
  • 1 aluminum pan
  • 2 or 3 small tea candles
  • 2 thick books

We poured water into the pan and let it sit until the water stopped moving around. Then we carefully put the sponges in place. We read that one of the sponges should have push pins placed in the side. I’m not sure whether this was to weight it down or keep the sponges from touching.  Then we set the experiment up as follows (with books holding the pan up).

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Once the water stopped moving, we lit the tea candles beneath the pan. We made sure the candles were in between the two continents. It was pretty neat watching the continents drift apart!

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We spent several days talking about convection currents and looking at various diagrams.  After we watched the continents drift apart, we carefully dropped dye into the water to see convection currents in action. The dye dropped to the bottom of the pan and then moved upward and outward with the heated water. I should have videoed this since the series of pictures isn’t terribly exciting to look at, but at any rate, with the dye, the kids could see how the water moved with the heat source (candles) underneath and it gave them a better understanding of convection currents and how they work.

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We read about plate tectonics in several different resources. Two that we found especially helpful were The Changing Earth (A middle school science text by McDougal Littel) and Plate Tectonics by Linda George. Both worked well for my kids (ages 6, 9, 11).

PlateTectonicsBooks

 

I keep adding and adding to our Earth Science Notebook Pages Packet as we go through this unit.  It still is in rough draft form and not really ready to share on the blog. But as I keep saying, if you’re working on this unit right now and see something you could really use, send me an email or a note on our Homeschool Den Facebook page.  Otherwise, I hope to get that polished and shared at some point!

These are what the pages we’re working on for our science notebook look like:

PlateTectonicNotebookPages-675x330

 Our Earth Science Unit Packet is here!!

The Earth Science Packet is $4.00.

 

Cost: $4.00

When you click on the Buy Now button below, it will take you to Paypal. Upon receipt of payment you will immediately get a link to download this pdf in your browser. You will also receive an email from SendOwl Downloads which will give you a link to download. If you have any trouble, just contact me (liesl at homeschoolden dot com)! ~Liesl

NOTE: You MAY NOT share this file directly on any file-sharing site. This packet is for your personal use only. You may make as many copies as you would like for your children or the students in your classroom only. Other teachers/educators must obtain their own copy of this file.

NOTE: Once you download this packet you will need to COPY it to the file location of your choice (rather than selecting “Save As” on the PDF that pops up). By default, many computers save files and pdfs to a “Downloads” folder. Look in that folder and right click on the file. Hit “Copy.” Then paste it into the folder of your choice! :)  Again, if you have any trouble, just contact me (liesl at homeschoolden dot com)! ~Liesl

50+ Page Earth Science Packet

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