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Rock Deformation & Mountain Building Activities

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Teaching high school students about geology can be very exciting, but the fact that the material may be new to your students means it also comes with certain challenges. This lesson offers activities related to rock deformation and mountain building.

Teaching About Rocks and Mountains

As a high school teacher of earth science or geology, you have a lot of material to cover over the course of the year. One thing your students will probably be interested in is how rocks change and deform over time, and how the surface of the Earth can shift for both natural and human made reasons. Similarly, students might wonder how mountains are formed and how they change slowly as time progresses.

These topics, known as rock deformation and mountain building, will be more accessible to your students if you help them access ideas via activities. The activities in this lesson intentionally appeal to a variety of learning styles and strengths while teaching rock deformation and mountain building.

Visual Activities

This section provides activities that will appeal to visual learners as they come to a deeper understanding of geology.

Diagrams of Stress

Students will be interested in the different kinds of stress that can ultimately lead to rock formation. After students read about tensional, compressional, confining, and shear stress, have them work with partners.

Their assignment is to create one diagram apiece demonstrating how each kind of stress occurs in rocks. Then, they should share their diagrams with classmates and discuss similarities and differences among their interpretations.

Analyzing a Map

This is another activity that students can work on with partners or in small groups. Hang images of mountains or topographic maps around your classroom. Make sure it is clear exactly where in the world each image comes from.

First, let students circulate with their partners and look at the different images. Then, have each pair choose one image on which to focus. They should analyze what the image shows, what the mountain is probably made from, how and when it was built, and how they know. They should then draw a 'behind the scenes' image or write a paragraph demonstrating what probably went into the creation of what they see in that image.

Tactile Activities

Here, you will find activities that meet the needs of learners who like to work with their hands and bodies.

Model Mountains

Thinking about mountain building provides an ideal opportunity for students to work with clay and building. Ask them to work in small groups, and give each group clay, water, and a large bin to work with.

In their bin, they should sculpt at least three stages of mountain building. For instance, they might sculpt the isostatic uplift stage, the block faulting stage, and the orogenic stage. Their sculpture will ultimately show how a mountain is built over time. As they work, encourage students to discuss everything that happens in each of these stages and how long it actually takes.

Get Out and Explore

All around your school and community, there are examples of rock deformation that has happened in the past or is occurring in the present. Take a walk with your students, or assign them to take this walk with their families as a homework assignment.

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