Teaching Great Lakes Geology and Glaciers for Kids

Great Lakes geology begins with glaciers. They created the landscape of the region. First, teach kids about eras. Then let them explore the geologic timescale. After that, they’ll be ready to take a look at the layers exposed by the glaciers, as well as the evidence revealed.

Ms. Sneed Teaches About Great Lakes Geology

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, clicked around on her laptop. “I’m looking for something more substantial for our study of Great Lakes geology,” she said to her co-teacher.

Mr. Frank nodded. “Yeah. I’d like to add to our set of Great Lakes activities. We begin with facts and geography,” he said. “Then we explore in a more interesting way by reading Paddle-to-the-Sea. What else did you have in mind?”

“Definitely something more with geology. Especially how glaciers shaped the land. Additionally, I’d like something about water. You know, hydrology.”

Mr. Frank nodded again. “That would really bolster our science curriculum. Furthermore, it would hit some important standards.”

“Look at this!” Ms. Sneed pushed the laptop across the table so Mr. Grow could see. “This website, Great Lakes for Kids, has sections on all the material we’d like to cover: facts, geology, and hydrology.”

She clicked the last section. “The website is published for all to see, but you can also purchase supporting materials.”

“Let’s take a look at the geology stuff,” Mr. Frank said.

Learning About Geologic Eras

“It begins with the study of geologic eras and periods. Upper elementary or middle school kids can read about each one,” Ms. Sneed commented.

A picture of one page of the website is shown here. Learning about geologic eras prepares them for understanding how Great Lakes glaciers exposed older layers of earth.

Are you feeling “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

Focusing on the Geologic Time Scale

“They create a model of the geologic time scale with adding machine tape. Then they add words or pictures to show life forms that existed.”

“We have never taught this, but I think our kids would like it,” said Mr. Frank.

“And learn a lot!” his co-teacher added. “It would only take a few days.”

Kids use two printable pages to create a geologic time scale with adding machine tape. The first is a visual of the eras, periods, and epochs. The second gives directions. With this, they can see where in history Great Lakes glaciers arrived.

Understanding How Great Lakes Glaciers Exposed Layers

The two teachers clicked through a bit more of the product preview. “Oh, now I get why they learn about the geologic time scale first,” Mr. Frank said. “These maps show how glaciers advanced and receded in the Great Lakes regions, as well as the periods uncovered.”

“Look at the way the next map shows the minerals that were exposed. Fascinating! From this, kids could build understanding of how different natural resources were formed in different periods under different conditions.”

Public domain images from the EPA illustrate Great Lakes glaciers, as well as layers that were exposed by their scraping.

Having Fun with Core Sampling

“Ha! Look at this! I was beginning to think of this Great Lakes geology sequence as a set of super serious lessons. Then I find cupcakes!” Ms. Sneed laughed.

“Cupcake core sampling,” Mr. Frank read. “Oh the kids would eat this up.”

“Very funny. Seriously, though, we could do this. You simply add food coloring to cake batter, glop three colors into each cupcake liners, and bake. Then you frost the cupcakes so kids can’t see what’s underneath. They draw a three-by-three grid in the frosting. Then they stick a straw in each section. After they pull it up, they blow on the top of the straw to pop out the core sample.”

“Brilliant!” said Mr. Frank. “I’m dying to try this.” As Ms. Sneed continued through the preview, a recording sheet popped up. “They draw the samples here. Then they reconstruct what the entire cupcake must look like.”

“We definitely need to do this!”

Images show how to bake three-colored cupcakes so kids can try core sampling. They draw a grid across the top of the cupcake. Then they stick a straw straight down into each section. By blowing on the top of the straw, they pop out a mini core sample.
Studying Great Lakes Geology with Fossil Evidence Left Behind

In the next section, kids learned about fossils of the Great Lakes. “This matches our earth science standards to a tee,” Mr. Frank said. “Our students will study these fossil layers to determine the type of environment that existed in each.”

Kids take a look at fossil evidence exposed by Great Lakes glaciers to learn about the past.

“I’m sold!” said Ms. Sneed. “This Great Lakes geology unit is a perfect addition to our curriculum.”

Enjoy Teaching

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.

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