‘Whoa!’ Landslides and volcanoes at Zeman Elementary

Kelly Frankenberg’s fifth-grade science class at Zeman Elementary School recently witnessed a series of landslides that caused mass destruction, topped off by a volcanic eruption near the end of class.

These events were simulated, of course, and small enough to fit on a paper plate - but Frankenberg used them to teach her students about how events such as these can alter the earth’s surface, part of a larger science unit about rocks and minerals.

Frankenberg explained there are earth-altering events that cause fast-moving processes, such as landslides, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Then there are the events that work more slowly on the earth’s surface, such as erosion through wind, water and ice.

“There’s cause and effect with everything,” she told her class.

The students were able to recreate landslides through a simple activity involving paper plates, markers, sand and water. First, in groups of four, they drew trees, landscaping, houses and people around the edge of a paper plate. Next, Frankenberg gave each group a small plastic cup packed with sand. The students carefully flipped the cups on to their plates, creating miniature mountains.

Finally, the landslides: They first dripped water onto the sand, which had little effect, then used a plastic bottle to stream water onto the sand - causing a full-fledged landslide and “destroying” everything in its path.

Near the end of class, Frankenberg simulated a volcanic eruption by using baking soda and vinegar. She used clay to show how lava can form the surfaces in its path. “This is how the Hawaiian islands were formed.”

Many of the students had the same reaction to the volcano, projected onto a screen at the front of the class: “Whoa!”

The goal of the Lincoln Public Schools science program is to help all students develop an understanding of the natural world and how humans utilize and impact the environment. The curriculum is based on the Nebraska State Science Standards and the National Science Standards. The four themes studied in elementary schools are living things, the physical world, space/earth and STS (science, technology, and society)/environment. Students experiment and do hands-on-activities to learn to value curiosity, openness, inquiry and critical thinking skills in science as a part of everyday living.

Published: December 6, 2017, Updated: December 6, 2017