Geologic History Project Ideas

Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

How do you help students that have been alive for fewer than 20 years understand a history that has been in action for 4.5 billion years? This lesson will provide a few concrete ideas that will help students grasp the topic of geologic history.

Why Is Geologic History a Difficult Concept?

The life experiences of our students are packed into a time span of a decade or two (or perhaps even less). This time span is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the total amount of time the Earth has been developing since its formation 4.5 billion years ago. It's no surprise, then, that students have a hard time conceptualizing such a broad history when drawing on only their personal experiences. Using projects such as these can help them visualize and conceptualize the geologic history of Earth in terms they are familiar with.

Earth's History in One Calendar Year

No matter how few years a student has been on Earth, they will know what they're looking at when they see a traditional 12-month calendar. All you need for this project is a 1-page 12-month calendar, a brief overview timeline of Earth's geologic history (perhaps with some major events, like the first single-celled organisms and the first modern humans), and some art supplies. Have students first color code the calendar according to the various eras that scientists divided geologic time into. Then, they can add major events to the calendar to give it more depth. They will notice immediately that one of the supereons (Precambrian) takes up most of the timespan of Earth's history. This is one of the most important lessons here; Earth's history began with an immense amount of time in which no life existed on the planet!

Earth's History as a Timeline

Similar to the above project, this activity can help drive the point home that Earth's geologic history is vast, and humans have only been on the planet for a short while (comparatively speaking, of course). Using a long roll of paper (adding machine tape works wonderfully), have students create a timeline of Earth's geologic history. They will first need to do a bit of math to figure out how long (physically) to make each eon, era, and so forth. Then, they will need to color code these divisions and place important events on the timeline. Again, they will discover in a visually striking way that Precambrian time was incredibly long and that living things only started to propagate relatively recently.

Creative Writing

Sometimes it takes the imagination of a student to get them thinking scientifically about a concept. Ask your students to write about geologic history in a creative way. Perhaps they are time travelers and need to document what they see as they travel through Earth's formation and evolution. Perhaps they are a single-celled organism that is aware and can record what they are experiencing. The idea here is to get them thinking critically about Earth's changes over time.

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