This is an approximately two week long unit designed for high school seniors in a marine science elective class. For the bulk of the two weeks, the students work primarily in groups on lessons designed to encourage self-guided learning and research. Students begin the unit by making connections between volcanoes and Earth’s history and finish the unit by researching a specific volcano and describing the global and social impacts of major historical eruptions. Students learn about how rocks in the Earth melt and how volcanoes acquire their supply of magma. Within this context students explore the underlying causes for different types of eruptions. The focus then transitions to a global picture and the relationship between volcanoes and plate tectonics. This unit is supplemented by on-location video from the Big Island of Hawaii and an interview with Dr. Don Swanson, a volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory.

  • Students will learn that volcanoes are the primary way the Earth releases heat and that volcanoes provide direct evidence that the Earth is a dynamic system.
  • Students will learn how rocks melt in the Earth’s interior and the different ways molten rock reaches the Earth’s surface.
  • Students will learn that stratovolcanoes and shield volcanoes have different eruption styles and these differences are caused by unique magma types.
  • Students will learn that aa and pahoehoe lava flows form different volcanic structures and are controlled by viscosity.
  • Students will learn that magma viscosity controls the explosivity of a volcanic eruption.
  • Students will learn that shield volcanoes do not always erupt effusively, but can be explosive under the right conditions.
  • Students will learn how dissolved gasses in magma cause explosive eruptions.
  • Students will learn about volcano distribution on the Earth and the relationship between volcanoes and plate tectonics.
  • Students will learn about volcanic hazards and the effect volcanic eruptions can have on local populations and society.
  • The Earth is unchanging.
  • Volcanoes are unrelated to plate tectonics and major Earth processes.
  • Rocks melt because they are hot.
  • The Earth’s mantle is made of molten rock.
  • Volcanoes are randomly distributed on the Earth.
  • All lavas have the same chemistry.
  • All rocks melt the same way.
  • All volcanoes have the same type of lava.
  • Explosive eruptions are caused only because of high temperatures.
  • Shield volcanoes are never explosive.
  • Water does not affect volcanoes.
  • Evidence of volcanic eruptions is limited to lava flows and volcanic ash.
  • Liquid nitrogen only keeps things cold.
  • Fire or heat is necessary for an explosion.
  • All volcanoes have the same type of eruption.
  • Volcanoes always occur at plate boundaries.
  • Volcanoes and earthquakes are not connected.
  • All volcanoes have the same type of eruption.
  • The same hazards occur at all volcano types.
  • It is not dangerous to live near some types of active volcanoes.
  • It is possible to predict the exact time of a volcanic eruption.
  • Lava flows are the primary danger associated with volcanic eruptions.
  • This unit is taught as a combination of short lectures and guided learning activities. The unit was developed for a large class of 45 students so each lesson emphasizes small-group work over independent and full class learning. Activities in the unit include: making posters, watching videos and answering essential questions, group laboratory experiments, class demonstrations, group research project.
  • These lessons in the volcano unit are designed for 11th and 12th grade students in a Marine Science class. This unit serves requires no specific prior knowledge about volcanoes, but assumes some general knowledge of Earth processes, including plate tectonics and the structure of the Earth. The unit begins with a general introduction to volcanoes and progresses to teach students about why some volcanoes erupt differently, what causes rocks to melt and form magma and how different magmas affect volcanic eruptions.
  • Final student assessment for the volcano unit is based on student performance on the Volcano Case Study research project and a multiple-choice exam. Students are asked to synthesize what they learned throughout the unit in the Case Study project and apply their knowledge to real life and hypothetical scenarios. The multiple-choice exam offers an additional evaluation for students with different learning strengths.
  • This unit is comprised of eight lessons. Each lesson is designed to take one or two days, depending on classroom size and student ability.
  • Lesson 1- The Earth is Alive: Connecting volcanoes to Earth’s history.
  • Lesson 2- Melt in the Earth: How do rocks melt?
  • Lesson 3- Volcanic Eruptions: Exploring volcanic eruptions and what causes them.
  • Lesson 4- Magma Viscosity: How do changes in magma viscosity affect eruptions.
  • Lesson 5- Explosive Kilauea: Looking at Kilauea’s recent volcanic history.
  • Lesson 6- Volcano demonstration: What role do gasses play in volcanic eruptions.
  • Lesson 7- Volcano Map: Volcanoes around the globe and plate tectonics.
  • Lesson 8- Volcano Case Studies: Researching a historical volcanic eruption.
  • This unit directly 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”.
  • The unit partially addresses CA secondary Earth Science standards (3b) and (3c).
    (3b): “Students know the principal structures that form at the three different kinds of plate boundaries”.
    (3c): “Students know how to explain the properties of rocks based on the physical and chemical conditions in which they formed, including plate tectonic processes”.

Mt St Helens

Lava Fountain

Garbage Can Volcano
Lesson Specifics
  • Grade Level: 11th and 12th grade students in a Marine Science class
  • Time Frame: 2 weeks

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