Magmatism Project Ideas

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Students are often excited to learn about volcanoes, and this series of lab-based projects uses volcanoes to learn about the properties that impact how magma behaves while building on math, inquiry and science skills.

Learning About Magmatism

This series of projects introduces students to magmatism, or how magma moves. These projects can be done independently, as an in-class lab activity, or as demonstrations. Most can be geared toward any grade level, and can be used alongside textbook lessons focusing on earth science and physical science topics.

Viscosity and Magma

Grade Level: K-12


  • Test tubes and test tube rack
  • BBs
  • Stopwatch
  • Ruler
  • Science journal (older students)
  • Syrup
  • Hotplates
  • Ice water
  • Beaker

Background for Teachers/Directions:

The type of volcanic eruption, in part, is related to the viscosity of the magma. For example, high silica content and low temperatures make the magma more viscous, which results in violent eruptions. This exploratory activity allows students to see how temperature impacts the viscosity of 'magma' (in this case, syrup will be the magma). Older students can complete this as a science fair project, or in a classroom lab setting, whereas younger students can observe this experiment as a demonstration.


  • Students will determine the viscosity of a liquid based on how quickly a BB falls through the liquid. Older students will calculate the speed (speed = distance / time). The faster the BB falls through the liquid, the less viscous the material.
  • Fill a test tube 3/4 full of syrup. Measure the length of the syrup (this is the distance)
  • Have a student use a stopwatch to record the time it takes for the BB to make its way through the syrup and hit the bottom of the test tube. Repeat this three times and take the average time. Calculate the speed using the distance and the average time.
  • Place the test tube in an ice water bath so it can cool (do not get water into the test-tube). Repeat the experiment and calculations.
  • Heat the test tube by placing it in a beaker filled with water on a hot plate.
  • Repeat the experiment and calculations.

Discussion Questions:

  • How does temperature affect the viscosity of the 'magma?'
  • How is speed related to viscosity?
  • How do you think viscosity would affect the volcanic eruption?
  • How would viscosity affect the lava flow once the magma reaches the surface?

Dissolved Gas and Magma

Grade Level: K-12


  • 2 unopened soda cans per group
  • Timer
  • Science journal (older students)
  • Video clips of a violent vs. non-violent volcanic eruption (optional)

Background for Teachers/Directions:

Different types of magma result in different types of volcanic eruptions. For example, if there is more dissolved gas in the magma, the volcanic eruption is more violent. As the magma travels to the earth's surface, it gets 'shaken up,' which creates bubbles in the magma. The more bubbles, the more violent the eruption. Students will try to determine why the agitated soda is more explosive and relate that to volcanoes. Start by showing students two different types of volcanic eruptions and explain they will investigate one reason for the difference.

  • For older students: ask them to design an experiment that looks at how agitation affects the 'eruption' of the soda from the can.
  • For mid-level students: Have them shake a can for 20-30 seconds. Next, open the can and write observations. Repeat with the second can, but this time allow the can to sit for 30 seconds and then open it. Record observations
  • For younger students: complete as a demonstration

Discussion Questions:

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