Enjoy teaching rocks! Free resources are everywhere. How can you curate them into a great instructional unit? First, find guest speakers. YouTube brings experts to your classroom with a click of a button. Second, locate great support materials. More stuff is popping up on the Internet every day. Now it’s time to add all of this to your favorite instructional materials. Voila! You’ll enjoy teaching rocks more than ever.
Let’s visit Ms. Sneed’s classroom. She wants to teach the best rocks and minerals unit ever. But she’s on a tight budget. And she doesn’t have much time to plan. Can she do it?
Ms. Sneed googles “rocks for kids” – just to get started. Hmm. What she’d really like is some guest speakers. No funds for that. But what about YouTube? She grabs a cup of coffee and clicks around. When her coffee cup is empty, she sighs and smiles. Her kids are going to love this stuff.
Teaching Rocks – Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic
“Today, we’ll be learning about three types of rocks,” Ms. Sneed tells her class. “We’ll begin in the kitchen of geologist Devin Dennie.” Ms. Sneed tunes in to Geology Kitchen: The Three Types of Rocks. The format is fun and lively. Yep. Ms. Sneed’s kids love this introduction. After eight minutes, they have a pretty good understanding of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks.
“Now I’d like you to do a little more exploring,” Ms. Sneed tells her class. She shares the URL for Rock Cycle from Annenberg Learner Interactives. Her students read, fiddle with some interactives, and take a quiz at the end. They’re well on their way to mastering the three types of rocks.
“Tomorrow,” says Ms. Sneed, “we’ll start identifying rocks. Please find five or more rocks around your neighborhood tonight. Bring them in tomorrow, and we’ll see if we can figure out what they are.”
Identifying Types of Rocks
The next day, class starts with a video, Identifying Rocks (3 minutes). It shows kids how to categorize rocks into three basic groups.
“Okay, it’s time to sort your rocks,” Ms. Sneed tells her class. “Put all of your rocks in the center of your table. Then sort them into the three rock types.” As her students work together, she walks around and listens to their conversations:
- That one has to be sedimentary. See how there are little pieces of shell in it?
- I know it’s sedimentary because it’s in layers.
- Wait a minute. Other types of rocks can have layers too. Remember how the video said that some metamorphic rocks are layered?
- Isn’t this one pretty? I like those pink and gray crystals.
- Crystals? Doesn’t that mean it’s igneous?
- Hey! I know that rock. Rocks with that kind of crystals are called granite.
As she circulates, Ms. Sneed smiles to herself. Her free online resources (and some free rocks) are making her enjoy teaching rocks a little more each day.
Getting More Specific with Teaching Rocks
The following day, a student in the front row asks, “Will we be working with our rocks again, Ms. Sneed?”
“I have some special rocks for you today,” she responds. “I took a little trip to the storage room and found some old sets of rocks. Using a marker, I wrote numbers on rocks of the same kind.
“In your group, you’ll work together to find the name of each rock. You’ll use a set of tools, some rock identification sheets, and online resources. Since you have four members in your group, we’ll start by giving everyone a job:
- #1 can pick up a baggie of tools. In it, you’ll find a magnifying glass, a penny, a nail, and a streak plate. You’ll use the penny and nail to test the rock’s hardness. Rub the rock on the streak plate to find the streak color. Another member of your group can grab your first rock from the table.
- #2 should pick up lab sheets for everyone.
- #3 can select the first rock from the table.
- #4, you can get a Chromebook. I’ve shared some helpful sites.”
The Messy Work of a Scientist – Identifying Rocks in the Classroom
Everyone starts moving at once. They set up their materials then look at the sites their teacher has shared with them:
- What Kind of Rock Is This? – guiding questions, a flow chart, and photographs
- GeoMan’s Rock Identification Summary – table with descriptions (click on sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic for more specific identification)
- Rocks: Pictures of Igneous, Metamorphic, and Sedimentary – labeled pictures of rocks clarify identification
It’s slow going. Kids debate exact colors and what to call the luster. They sometimes have trouble getting a streak or explaining the cleavage. Students move back and forth from website to website trying to find the one that will help them the most. It’s the messy work of a scientist. Again, Ms. Sneed smiles to herself.
When science time is over, no group has finished their lab. “That’s okay,” says Ms. Sneed. “We’ll finish tomorrow.”
“But that group didn’t get the same name for rock #3 as us,” complains a voice from the side of the room.
“That’s okay,” says Ms. Sneed. “We are not geologists. We are not perfect. But we’re learning how rocks are classified. Additionally, scientists classify minerals, not rocks. Rocks are made of minerals, but they’re not pure. Rocks may contain different kinds of minerals.”
Ms. Sneed’s students work on rocks and minerals for several more days. Each day, free online resources make their work easier and more interesting.
The class will also study fossils. When Ms. Sneed looks for resources on the Internet, she strikes the jackpot!
- What’s a Fossil? (2.5 minutes) – This video provides a great introduction.
- Fossils (6.5 minutes) – The end of the video shows how to make your own fossils in the classroom. (Plasticine is generally called modeling clay in the U.S.)
- Fossil Rock Anthem (3 minutes) – An entertaining parody of Party Rock Anthem reinforces how fossils are layered in rock. (Ms. Sneed’s students beg her to play it time after time and dance in the aisles!)
A Complete Unit for Teaching Rocks
Ms. Sneed has a blast teaching rocks – and her students do too. She pairs online resources with a complete unit, Exploring Rocks. She smiles to herself and thinks, “Teaching rocks has never been so much fun.”
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.