Students are introduced to the two main types of volcanoes, stratovolcanoes and shield volcanoes, including how volcanoes form and explain their basic structure and composition. The goal throughout the entire unit is to provide students with a foundation of information about the different types of volcanoes with a focus on which types of volcanoes are explosive, why they are explosive, and reasons for the location and properties of volcanoes across the globe. The lessons in this unit encourage student questions and discussions during brief PowerPoint lectures in order to address common misconceptions. Students demonstrate what they learn by participating in hands-on activities and experiments throughout the unit.

  • Students will be able to compare and contrast the identifying characteristics of stratovolcanoes and shield volcanoes.
  • Students will be able to distinguish between each volcano type in terms of volcano shape, composition and explosivity.
  • Students will be able to identify and describe the different hazards associated with strato- and shield volcanoes.
  • Students will be able to explain the relationship between plate tectonics, hotspots and volcanoes on the Earth.
  • Students will be able to differentiate between magmas associated with explosive and effusive eruptions.
  • Students will be able to evaluate a volcanic eruption demonstration for accuracy and explain any differences between the homemade and real volcanic eruptions.
  • All volcanoes erupt violently.
  • Volcanoes are made only of lava.
  • All volcanoes are cone shaped with steep sides.
  • The largest volcanoes are found on land.
  • Lava flows are the most dangerous volcanic hazard.
  • All volcanoes have the same dangers.
  • It is never possible to evacuate people from a volcano.
  • Volcanic eruptions only affect local areas.
  • Hotspots are found only on plate boundaries.
  • There are no volcanoes in the ocean.
  • All volcanoes have lots of lava.
  • Volcanoes are randomly distributed on the Earth.
  • All magmas are the same density.
  • All lavas flow at the same speed.
  • Liquid nitrogen is only used to keep things cold.
  • For the majority of lessons, students will take notes on brief PowerPoint presentations and accompanying videos. Following these lectures, students will engage in interactive activities in groups of two to four to supplement the information presented to them in the PowerPoints. These activities include drawing posters, researching using online tools, answering critical questions and engaging in hands on experiments.
  • The lessons in this volcano unit are designed for 9th grade Earth Science classes. This unit serves as an introduction to volcanoes and requires no specific prior knowledge about volcanoes. This unit is taught as a series of lectures and activities, each one building on the other. It is assumed though that students have some understanding of plate tectonics and the structure of the Earth. The culminating activity for this unit is a simulation of a volcanic eruption using liquid nitrogen.
  • The assessment for this unit was designed as part of a multiple-choice exam containing materials from both earthquake and volcano units. The questions for the volcano assessment are found in the document titled “Volcano Unit Assessment”.
  • This unit contains five lessons, each designed for a single 55 minute class period. The first four lessons contain brief PowerPoint presentations followed by interactive and hands-on activities. The final lesson has no presentation and is a synthesis of the entire unit. The lessons, and their descriptions, are found in PowerPoint files with the following titles (and in the order they are taught):.
  • Lesson 1: Volcano Types.
  • Lesson 2: Global Volcanoes.
  • Lesson 3: Volcanic Eruptions.
  • Lesson 4: Volcanic Hazards.
  • Lesson 5: Garbage Can Eruption.

Pyroclastic Eruption

Tectonic Map

Lesson Specifics
  • Grade Level: 9th grade Earth Science classes
  • Time Frame: This unit contains five lessons, each designed for a single 55 minute class period
  • Science Standards Addressed: "This Unit addresses CA secondary Earth Sciences standard (3e) and (3f). (3e): “Students know there are two kinds of volcanoes: one kind with violent eruptions producing steep slopes and the other kind with voluminous lava flows producing gentle slopes”. (3f): Students know the explanation for the location and properties of volcanoes that are due to hotspots and the explanation for those that are due to subduction."

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