Exploring Earth and Space Science: Volcanoes!

As we continue to delve into the STEM standards, we’re loving the exploration of Earth and Space Science. Our focus this week is: Volcanoes!!

When the Earth's surface (also known as the "crust") is cracked, it breaks into gigantic pieces called "plates". Volcanoes often form along the edges of where the plates meet. Beneath the Earth's crust, there is a world of magma flowing. When magma hits the Earth's surface, it is then called lava (even though it is still the same hot, liquid substance). When volcanoes form, lava can erupt, flow, or pour from them.

Here are some projects to see how volcanoes work up close and personal, right inside your classroom!


Erupting Volcano

Objective: Students explore what happens at the Earth’s surface when a volcano erupts. 

Supplies: 

  • Foil
  • Baking pan 
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Cardboard / paper / newspaper (any building materials around in the classroom) 
  • Tall glass vase or tall graduated cylinder 
  • Baking soda 
  • Vinegar
  • Food coloring and/or dish soap (optional)

Procedure: Split students into groups (4-6 / group).  Give each group a baking pan.  Students should place the vase in the center of the tray (tape it down) and fill it 1/3 of the way with vinegar.  Students can build a volcano to the size and shape of their choosing.  They will make some predictions about what will happen when their volcano erupts (aka baking soda is added to the vinegar).  Students can visit the other groups and watch each volcano erupt.  Add some dish soap or food coloring to enhance the eruption.  Then, they can record their observations about what actually happened when their volcano erupted.  Was their prediction correct?

Follow up: Introduce different types of volcanoes:  cinder cones, composite volcanoes, shield volcanoes, and lava domes.  Visit https://owlcation.com/stem/4-Different-Types-of-Volcanoes-Cinder-Cones-Lava-Domes-Shield-and-Composite-Volcanoes for videos, images, and written summaries of the four types. 

What type of volcano did the group’s most closely resemble?


Volcano in a Cup

Objective:  Students will explore volcanic activity at work underwater.

Supplies: 

  • Glass beaker
  • 1" x 1" piece of wax
  • 1 cup of sand
  • Water
  • Hot plate

Procedure:  Place the wax in the bottom of the beaker, as close to the center as possible.  Cover the wax with sand.  Pour water into the beaker until it is nearly full.  Place beaker on a hot plate (set to medium-high).  Watch how when the wax melts, it gets free of the sand and floats to the surface. 

Follow up:  How does it work?  We already created models of what we typically think of when we hear “erupting volcano” (occurring on land and resulting in huge plumes of smoke and spewing lava).  But 80% of all volcanic eruptions occur underwater.  It wasn’t until 2009 that scientists were able to get footage of an underwater eruption.  In the experiment, the heated wax represents liquid hot magma.  As the heated wax bubbles through the sand, it causes miniature eruptions at the surface of the sand.  Each bubble in the sand’s surface is like an underwater volcano.  When the wax bubbles to the surface of the sand, it meets much colder water that cools it and causes it to harden, just like what happens to the lava when it breaks through the sand and hits the ocean water.  

Thanks to Steve Spangler science for the great idea!

https://www.stevespanglerscience.com/lab/experiments/volcano-in-a-cup-erupting-wax/