A Walk Of 500 Million Years Begins With A Single...
My students need plywood, 100 pounds of sand, and three sets of fossils.
As Science Specialist at a Science and Math Academy in a large urban area of Illinois, I work with students and teachers to enrich the curriculum. Our students live in a low income area of the city, and our school was built to relieve overcrowding in surrounding underachieving schools. We are in our 5th year.
The 6th grade curriculum focuses on Earth Science, specifically how the planet was formed and how it has changed over millions of years. Millenia is a hard concept for middle school students to understand, so the more models and interactive demonstrations we have, the better they grasp the concept. Getting a visual of how Illinois was once covered by an ocean, swamps and then glaciers goes a long way toward improving their understanding of Earth processes over millions of years.
I need a large piece of plywood, and 75 lbs of sand to walk the students through the vast changes in the landscape of Illinois over the last 500 million years. We start with Illinois outlined on the plywood and covered with an inch of damp sand (more at the northern end where we will construct deltas and moraines. We begin by identifying the water boundaries of the state. I remind them that geologists read the layers of rocks like pages in a book and put together the story of what happened so long ago. As we work our way through the centuries students see how Illinois slowly evolved into what it is today and how the changes that occurred control the water, the coal, and the other resources available to us today. We begin with Illinois under a shallow ocean, and I toss in a few fossils that could survive only in tropical areas, and others found in limestone. We move on as the ocean recedes and forests grow, and then a glacier (Styrofoam board) moves over the landscape, and recedes, leaving its mark on the ground.
The students are actively involved in each era of Illinois' geologic change, and it has meaning for them as they "see" the changes taking place. They become involved in geology and history and learn about the state they live in. This is what teaching is all about.
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