Toward the end of October, fifth-grade Earth Science classes completed the fall study of Earth’s composition and the rock cycle. Lead teacher Cristina Veresan and associate teacher Tim Vargas created a project to help students solidify their learning and set it in stone.
Students were asked to create models of the rock cycle using upcycled or ephemeral materials found in their homes. The project, Cristina said, struck a great balance between deep content knowledge, the practice of essential scientific skills such as modeling, and the freedom of creative choice which allows Nueva students to thrive.
“We are all familiar with rocks as the most abundant features of our planet,” Cristina explained. “Yet rocks are formed, deformed, and reformed in a cycle that is largely not able to be observed firsthand, since many of its processes occur deep within Earth or on a geologic time scale.”
Before embarking on the culminating project, students had many opportunities to explore the rock cycle. They identified rocks based on physical properties in a virtual rock classification lab and used an online interactive site to visualize the cycle's processes.
“Developing models is an essential science skill,” Cristina said. “Models can help us represent abstract ideas and complex explanations, and they can enable us to make predictions or determine relationships in a system.”
In their models, students recreated geologic processes such as lithification, metamorphism, and crystallization. This exercise in thinking through the details of geologic processes allowed students to grapple with their lingering questions about how rocks form over time.
Student Avery C. liked the opportunity to explore how rocks transform.
“I wanted to highlight the main types of rock, the entire process of how one rock turns into another, and why there are certain characteristics of different types of rocks,” she said. “For instance, why do extrusive igneous rocks have air holes, but intrusive igneous rocks don’t? I wanted a way to visually represent the rock cycle in a creative and unique way. I think that some people may view the rock cycle as a bit uninteresting and dull, but a fun model like chocolate rocks may change their attitude towards the subject. Also, I love chocolate!”
Fifth-grader Bence O. also loved the chance to incorporate one of his favorite things.
“I was inspired by my love of making and eating candy–my third grade passion project was about candy as well,” he shared. “Some candies actually look very similar to forms of rock. For example, chocolate marshmallow looks a lot like pumice, the extrusive igneous rock. In terms of color and the air bubbles, formed because the rock is extrusive, they are related.”
Raya I. explained, “I was inspired to tell the story of the rock cycle in the way that I did because as soon as Cristina and Tim announced the project, I immediately thought, ‘Diorama!’ I knew we had old shoeboxes in our garage, and soon the whole thing just came into my mind: I would make a paper river and volcano, rocks out of clay, and type up little blurbs to explain each part. I would include an arrow for gravity, a paper sun, and the Earth's core."
In order to share their work with the community, students created short videos showing off their models and explaining the geologic processes and energy transformations involved in forming each of the three rock types (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic).
While some aspects of the unit were challenging due to being remote, the constraints all provided an opportunity for students to be resourceful and creative.
“I'd say the Modeling the Rock Cycle project was actually enhanced by the remote setting because students could utilize a variety of resources in their homes,”Cristina said. “They cooked ‘rocks’ in their kitchens, scoured their recycle bin for materials, and repurposed their toys to tell a geologic story. It was a powerful learning experience; They totally ‘rocked’ it!”