Monday 30 December 2013

Granite and Chalk - geological postcards

This is a picture postcard puzzle about granite and chalk landscapes. Pupils are asked to study each postcard and decide whether the landscape shown on it has been formed on granite or on chalk. They should then explain the reasons for their decision.
Many more free activities can be found on our website.

Monday 23 December 2013

'Tagging' water molecules - to explore the water cycle

"'Tagging' water molecules - to explore the water cycle" is our new activity published today. It is a thought experiment to explore the water cycle. Scientists can ‘mark’ genes with different glowing colours to find out how they work. Help your pupils to understand the water cycle by carrying out a thought experiment on what we would see if we could ‘tag’ water molecules to give them bright colours and make them visible. This activity helps pupils to visualise the movement of water through the water cycle.
It is one of many watery activities.

Monday 16 December 2013

Electrical ground probing

Have you tried the ELI 'Electrical ground probing'? This activity models the principles involved in surveying by electrical methods. Such techniques are frequently used in mineral exploration or in archaeological surveying. Forensic scientists also use the method to investigate disturbed ground in the search for objects buried by criminals.
Lots of similar teaching ideas can be found on our website - all free to download.

Monday 9 December 2013

Why should I recycle my mobile phone?

The latest ELI, published today, is the last of our Minerals series - 'Be a mineral expert 4 - Recycle your mobile phone'. This is an activity based on an information sheet, which prompts pupils to think about the materials and energy which go into the manufacture and use of a mobile phone, and why they should consider carefully what happens to the phone when its useful life is over.
For other free-to-download related activities, visit our website.

Monday 2 December 2013

Earthlearningidea news

New link on our 'Useful websites' page to Earth Science Western Australia

And now some results from 'Party time for volcanoes'. The chart below shows the aggregated results of many experiments at different venues with a total of 814 pops.
Have you also tried 'Take a chance on the volcano erupting'?
Visit our website for many more great ideas for teaching Earth science.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

GIFT workshops to be held in Africa

Bringing together the expertise of the EGU with UNESCO’s Earth Science Education Initiative in Africa and the European Space Agency (ESA), the EGU is proud to announce a new series of annual Geosciences Information for Teachers (GIFT) workshops to be held around the African continent over the next four years.
As international events, the workshops will be held in four different regions of Africa, starting with Southern Africa. They will cover various topics of societal relevance such as climate change, groundwater, geohazards, mineral resources and environmental sustainability.  
The UNESCO-EGU-ESA African GIFT workshops will take place over the course of 3 days with 40 teachers from across the region and 8-10 speakers, half of whom will be non-African experts.
For the past ten years, the EGU’s GIFT workshops – spreading first hand scientific research to teachers of primary and secondary schools – have been hugely successful in shortening the time that research takes to disseminate from scientist to textbook to teacher and offering usable practical activities for the classroom.
The event is open to teachers from across Southern Africa and will be held in Port Elizabeth, South Africa from the 26-28th February 2014.
Click here for more information and how to apply (deadline 9th Dec 2013) Please pass this to those you know who may be interested in this event.

Monday 25 November 2013

Water cycle world

Today's new ELI is 'Water cycle world; a discussion activity on the natural water transformations on Earth.'
Ask pupils to make a list of all the different ways they can think of that water can get into the atmosphere and ways that water can come out of the atmosphere. Then ask them to list all the ways in which water can be transported. Ask them to use their lists to label an enlarged copy of the water cycle diagram, like the one shown in the image above.
This is one of many watery activities listed on our website. All are free to download.

Monday 18 November 2013

Geothermal energy - renewable or not?

Have you tried 'Rock power: geothermal power simulations'? This activity models geothermal power sources and asks whether they are renewable or not.
This is one of many ELIs about power sources as listed in 'Resources' in Teaching strategies on the website.

Monday 11 November 2013

Uses of minerals

Our new Earthlearningidea published today is 'Be a mineral expert - 3; the mineral foundations of everyday life'. This is a matching exercise, where pupils are asked to match photographs of everyday objects with photographs of the minerals from which they are manufactured. It can be used in a variety of circumstances, e.g. in revision of a minerals topic by relating photographs to some minerals which pupils have already encountered. It could feature in a science or geography lesson, or in discussion of the mineral wealth of a country.
It is one of a series of 'minerals' activities. Related ELIs are shown on our website.

Monday 4 November 2013

James Hutton or 'Mr. Rock Cycle'

 Hutton's famous unconformity at Siccar Point, Scotland

James Hutton - or 'Mr. Rock Cycle'? This Earthlearningidea involves thinking towards the rock cycle, the Hutton way. Try thinking like James Hutton in the 1700s. Remember that, at that time, most people thought that the oldest rock on Earth was granite, which had crystallised from an early ocean, and all other rocks lay on top; the Earth had formed like this, just 6000 years ago.
The activity provides pupils with a series of questions and answers that attempt to outline the possible thoughts of James Hutton as he developed his ideas in the context of what we now call the rock cycle.
This is one of many ELIs about famous scientists who contributed to our knowledge of the Earth.

Monday 28 October 2013

Screaming roller coaster? Earth's spin and orbit

Your pupils will look puzzled when they are asked to face east and to hold on tightly to something in front of them as we gradually ascend a very steep roller coaster. We go up and up and up and then scream loudly as we hurtle down the other side. Whatever is going on? We are demonstrating the speed of the Earth's spin; in London we are travelling at about 647 miles per hour (1042 km/h)! On the Equator, the spin-speed is 1,040 mph (1674 km/h). You can calculate the spin-speed where you are by multiplying 1,674 km/h by the cosine of your latitude. All this is explained in our new Earthlearningidea 'Screaming roller coaster; how fast am I travelling (due to Earth's spin and Earth's orbit)?
This activity is in the 'Earth in Space' category on our website; more will follow.

Monday 21 October 2013

What is the size of the Earth compared to the Sun?

Have you tried 'Playground planets'? This ELI models the relative sizes of the planets and their distances from the Sun. If the Earth is modelled as a sphere 6mm in diameter, how big is the Sun? (696mm) Using a scale of about 100 billion to 1, if the Earth is 1.5m from the Sun, how far is Neptune? (45m)
This activity can be used in any lesson about space and astronomy. It can also be used in mathematics for work on large numbers and scale.
Visit our website for more activities in our 'Earth in space' category.

Monday 14 October 2013

Mini-world water cycle

This is the second in our water series, 'Mini-world water cycle'. This is a water cycle demonstration model in a transparent box, using materials readily available in the classroom. Brighten up the mini-world by standing it on blue paper to make the ‘sea’ blue, adding a model sunbather with a sun shade to the sandy ‘beach’, and cotton wool to the freezer pack to make fluffy clouds, as in the photo above. But beware – the sunbather will have to leave when it starts to rain!
There are lots more free-to-download activities on our website covering a whole range of Earth-related topics

Monday 7 October 2013

More on modelling igneous processes using wax and sand

Following last week's post, a reader has sent in the following suggestion for an extension to the original ELI, 'Volcano in the lab!' 
"This year I combined this ELI with ‘Partial Melting’ and created a mixed layer of pebbles and wax below the sand. Students were thus able to see that it is not necessary to have a completely molten layer to generate magmas.
Several phenomena we observed this year included, small puffs of ‘magma’ rising from the vent, so we ended up with small balls of wax floating on the water. The other larger vent demonstrated a rather complex intrusive body beneath the surface flow."
We will always publish any good ideas you send to us so keep them coming please!
Send to

Monday 30 September 2013

How to model igneous processes using wax and sand

'Volcano in the lab' is a very popular activity with everyone. Using wax, sand and cold water, it models very successfully a volcanic plumbing system with the lava spreading out over the surface of the Earth at the top. In this model it is possible to see through the Earth's crust.
The wax can be re-used lots of times so it's a useful resource that you can keep ready.
This is one of many innovative ideas, all free to download from our website.

Monday 23 September 2013

First in new ELI series about water

This is the first in a new series of Earthlearningideas about water - 'Changing state - transforming water'  This ELI involves a series of three activities for pupils to encounter and discuss the changing states of water, from ice to water to water vapour and back again – giving opportunities to develop a range of observation and description skills.
There are lots of other watery ideas in the list of 'Related ELIs' on the home page of our website or in Teaching strategies (link from home page).

Monday 16 September 2013

Mineral expert - identifying minerals using 'action' tests

In 'Be a mineral expert - 1' pupils were asked to identify a set of unknown minerals using the properties of colour, habit, lustre and cleavage that they could see. In today's activity 'Be a mineral expert - 2', they are asked to use the 'action' tests of streak, density, hardness and the acid test to further identify unknown minerals.
More minerals activities can be found on the ELI website.

Monday 9 September 2013

Why do igneous rocks have different crystal sizes?

This activity simulates crystallisation from a melt at different rates of cooling of Salol (phenyl salicylate). It can be included in lessons on the rock cycle to model the cooling and crystallisation of magma to form igneous rocks. We have just added some video clips which show crystallisation on room temperature, cold and warm microscope slides.
These video clips are published with permission from the Earth Science Education Unit which provides no fee Earth science/Geology CPD to teachers and teacher trainees across England, Scotland and Wales, through workshops for schools, teacher meetings and teacher education institutions/organisations.

Click HERE to watch the video clips

Monday 2 September 2013

Be a mineral expert - beginning to identify minerals

'Be a mineral expert - 1; beginning to identify minerals'. This is the first of a series of mineral identification activities. Here pupils base their identification just on the properties they can see, i.e. colour, crystal habit (shape and proportion), lustre (reflection of light) and cleavage (regular breakage pattern).
This series of activities on minerals can be used in a variety of lessons, ranging from the nature of minerals as the ‘building blocks’ of rocks to the origins and recycling of useful elements in the Earth. Search the website for similar activities.

Monday 26 August 2013

'Continental drift' to 'Plate tectonics'

'Wegener's 'Continental drift' meets Wilson's 'Plate tectonics'. This is an activity to show how Wegener's continental drift evidence matches up with evidence for plate tectonics. Pupils can sort out which parts of the evidence we now have for plate tectonics, Alfred Wegener knew about in the 1920s.

You can find lots more ideas for teaching this topic on the ELI website in Teaching strategies.

Saturday 24 August 2013

NEW Earth Science activities website

The Earthlearningidea team is pleased to announce the launch of a new, related website - Earth Science Activities and Demonstrations. Mike Tuke's activities and demonstrations provide a thousand and one ideas for teaching Geology: visual aids, demonstrations, short activities, paper exercises and experiments.

Click here for other websites listed on the Earthlearningidea site.

Monday 19 August 2013

Plate tectonics through the window

Have you tried the ELI, 'Plate tectonics through the window'? What might you see through a window or porthole at an active plate margin? What might you hear? What might you sense? What might you feel?
For your pupils, imagining a plate margin involves bridging between an understanding of plate tectonic activity and its likely effects on people in the region.
This is one of many plate tectonics activities that are free to download from our website.

Monday 12 August 2013

Gold prospectors

The new Earthlearningidea today is 'Gold prospectors; panning for 'gold' in river sediment'. This activity investigates how prospectors use the property of density to search for gold in river sediments.
Other activities related to this one are listed on the home page of our website.
Did you know you can search for almost any Earth-related topic by searching the activities, topics or categories on our website?

Monday 5 August 2013

Have you tried plate-riding?

A very popular Earthlearningidea activity is plate riding; it involves role-play plate-surfing and asks: 'How is the plate you live on moving now?'
Pretend you are balancing on a surfboard. Ask the students:
• “What am I doing?” Plate-riding or plate-surfing.
• “How fast am I going?” As fast as our fingernails grow, several centimetres per year.
• “In which direction am I travelling?” Towards the direction in which the plate is moving.
• “What is happening behind me?” New plate material is being formed, probably at an oceanic ridge.
• “What is happening in front of me?” You are probably heading towards a subduction zone,
“How can I tell I’m moving?” This is shown by evidence from: GPS measurements over several years; magnetic ocean floor stripes; the age of ocean floor sediments; and the lines of volcanoes produced at volcanic ‘hot spots’ like Hawaii.
Lots of Earth-related activities are FREE to download from our website.

Monday 29 July 2013

Rocks from the big screen

Today's new Earthlearningidea involves indoor preparation for outdoor field work, 'Rocks from the big screen'. Use the suggestions in this activity to prepare pupils for an outdoor visit to a rock exposure in your own locality. If projection equipment and a large screen are available, project a photograph of a rock face (as shown above, or use one of your own). Ask pupils to pretend that they are looking at the actual rock face. Place some appropriate rock specimens on the floor below the screen, as though they had fallen from the rock face. The pupils now identify the pieces of rock, draw a scaled diagram (field sketch) of the photo and then work out the geological history.
Further details of this activity are available by downloading the free pdf.
Visit out website's homepage to see other activities related to this ELI.

Monday 22 July 2013

Modelling processes where two plates move apart

An extremely popular activity to demonstrate processes happening at constructive (divergent) plate margins is 'A "mantle plume" in a beaker'.  This Earthlearningidea investigates what happens when a viscous material (syrup) is heated and rises, with the resultant moving apart of floating objects (broken biscuit) above it. This can be related to a rising plume of hot material beneath a constructive plate margin.
This is one of many plate tectonics activities available to download free from our website.

Monday 15 July 2013

Modelling eclipses of the Moon and the Sun

The new Earthlearningidea models eclipses of the Moon and the Sun with a ball, lollipops and a bright light - 'Eclipse the lollipop'. This activity explains that an eclipse of the Moon occurs when the shadow of the Earth falls on the Moon so that
it becomes dark. It also explains that an eclipse of the Sun occurs when the Moon comes between the Earth and the Sun, covering up the Sun, as seen from Earth.
It is one of a series of activities about the Moon that can be found on our website.

Monday 8 July 2013

The continental jigsaw puzzle

Can you reassemble a super-continent from a 'jigsaw puzzle'? In this ELI, the teacher introduces the idea that the continents have not  always been in their present positions by asking  pupils to look for the apparent match in the  coastlines of Africa and South America. (If a globe  is available, this will reduce any distortion from the  representation of the continents on a flat atlas  page). 
Ask what evidence pupils would look for which might demonstrate that the continents once really had been together, rather than the match being a  mere coincidence. (Pupils might suggest: fossils  of comparable land animals that could not have swum across an ocean; rocks of the same type and age that match; fold belts which seem to stop at the coast, only to appear again on the other side of the intervening ocean; evidence of ancient climates, such as red desert beds or rocks formed in tropical forest environments, etc.).
The jigsaw puzzles are supplied with the activity. 

This is one of many activities about plate tectonics on our website - all free to download.

Monday 1 July 2013

ELI has reached 1 million downloads!

The ELI team is celebrating! By the end of June, over one million activities had been downloaded from the website!

Also, we have published a new activity in our soils series today - 'Soil layers puzzle; make your own soil profile and investigate others'.

Pupils are given a jumbled set of seven cards cut from the diagram above. Once they have worked out what an idealised soil profile looks like, they compare it with ones outside or ones shown in photographs. They are encouraged to try to work out why soil profiles differ and what factors are involved in causing those differences.
This is one of over 160 Earth-related teaching ideas which are FREE to download from our website.

Monday 24 June 2013

Modelling a spreading ocean floor offset by transform faults

 Ocean floor maps clearly show that oceanic ridges have a series of ‘steps’, called transform faults. The transform fault ‘steps’ can also be seen in the offsets of ‘magnetic stripes' at ocean ridges. This activity involves making a model to demonstrate how the faults work.
This is one of many ELI activities to help to teach plate tectonics. All are free to download from the website.

Monday 17 June 2013

Lollipop moon; modelling the phases of the Moon

Today's new ELI is 'Lollipop moon'. In this activity the phases of the Moon are modelled with a ball, lollipops and a bright light, as viewed from 'outside' the model. This follows 'Polystyrene moon' which visualised the phases on the Moon as viewed from 'inside' the model. The first in this series was 'Jaffa moon' which developed observational, recording and modelling skills. These activities show the progressive teaching of this topic.
All Earth in Space earthlearningideas can be seen on the website and, like all these wonderful activities, they are free to download.

Monday 10 June 2013

Continents in collision

Some of the Earth’s most dramatic (and damaging) events take place at destructive plate margins where two continents collide. These occur when one plate is pulled down (subducted) where it meets another, usually producing earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. These destructive plate margins can be modelled in
cardboard as demonstrated in the ELI 'Continents in collision'.

 This is one of many Earthlearningideas in our Plate tectonic series. You can find the other activities on the website. All are free to download.

Monday 3 June 2013

New ELI tests the shrinkage of clay and its importance to the construction industry

The new ELI published today is 'Testing rocks 3 - that shrinking feeling'. Pupils investigate the percentage shrinkage of damp clay when it dries out and relate this to potential engineering problems.
 Civil engineers and house builders need to take into account many different properties of rocks, of which the shrinkage of clay is one important factor. We investigate others in 'related activities' which can be found on the home page of the website.

Please note:
We have amended one of our earlier activities  - 'Metamorphism - that's Greek for change of shape', isn't it?' One of our translators discovered that we had made a mistake. The fifth point in Underlying principles should read "Flaky minerals in a mud-rock (such as clay minerals) recrystallise into other flaky minerals (such as micas) to lie perpendicular to the forces which affected the rock."

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Partial melting - changing the chemistry of the planet

'Partial melting; simple process, huge global impact' - one of the many activities in our plate tectonics series. This activity explains how partial melting, coupled with plate tectonics, has changed the chemistry of our planet.

Each time that partial melting takes place during different stages of the plate tectonic cycle, materials with different chemical and physical makeup are formed. The starting point for these processes is the mantle, where the most abundant elements are oxygen, silicon, magnesium and iron in that order. However the Earth’s crust contains much more silicon and oxygen and much less magnesium and iron than the mantle. How this happens is explained in this activity.
This is one of many innovative plate tectonics activities to be found on the ELI website. Other ideas are listed in teaching strategies.

Monday 20 May 2013

Visualising the phases of the Moon

Trying to visualise the phases of the Moon is very difficult. To make it easier, try the latest Earthlearningidea, 'Polystyrene moon; visualising the phases of the Moon using a ball on a stick'.
This activity uses a ball and stick to simulate the Moon and a light beam to simulate the Sun to see what the phases of the Moon look like from the ‘Earth’.
Visit our website for lots more good ideas for teaching Earth science.

Please note: ELI is now on Twitter and waiting for your tweets!

Monday 6 May 2013

Splat! Testing the plasticity of clay

The new Earthlearningidea published today is 'Testing rocks 2 - Splat!' Pupils investigate the relationship between the plasticity of clay and its water content by dropping a clay ball on to the floor and measuring its spread. Needless to say this is a very popular activity!
We should be pleased to receive your comments and suggestions about this or any of the other 150 + innovative teaching ideas, all free to download from our website. You can search by activity, topic or by category to find the subject you need.

Monday 29 April 2013

Magnetic stripes

Have you tried the ELI 'Magnetic stripes'? This activity models the symmetrical magnetic pattern of the rocks of the sea floor. The magnetic properties of the rocks below the sea bed have been used to show that the ocean floors are spreading outwards.
This is one of many ELI activities used to teach the theory of plate tectonics; a list is provided in the 'Teaching strategies', link from the ELI home page.

Monday 22 April 2013

Smelter on a stick

Today's new ELI publication is 'Smelter on a stick: smelting iron ore to iron on a gas burner'. In this activity, pupils can demonstrate how iron ore can be smelted to iron, using a “micro-smelter” on a gas flame. It is a simple introduction to the smelting of metal ores by reducing them to the metal with charcoal. It is very popular!
Other ELI activities related to ores are listed on the home page of the website.
Let us know how you get on with this activity by putting a comment on this blog.

Monday 15 April 2013

Frozen magnetism

Teaching magnetism and the Earth? Have you tried the ELI 'Frozen magnetism; preserving evidence of a past magnetic field in wax'? This activcity is a demonstration of how the evidence for the magnetic field around a bar magnet may be preserved, even after the magnet has been removed. This gives an analogy for the three- dimensional magnetic field of the Earth, with a North and a South Pole.
This is one of many Earthlearningideas in the Earth energy/processes category.

Monday 8 April 2013

Found in the ground - grouping materials

This week's new Earthlearningidea is 'Found in the ground: sorted!'  This activity is an introduction to classification using things 'found in the ground'.
Pupils are provided with a box of assorted items, most of which come straight from the ground, but also including one or two manufactured objects. A typical list is given under 'Resources' in the activity. The pupils are asked to sort the items into groups,
using their own criteria, and without any prior briefing regarding the usual names for materials of geological origin. They may set up as many groups as they like, so long as they can justify why they have placed items in each group. Tell them that, when they have finished, you will want them to justify their reasons for their groupings.
This is one of many activities in our Earth Materials category.

Monday 1 April 2013

Popular ELI in March 2013 - Dinosaur footprints

We have just published the statistics for March 2013. The results can be seen at 'ELI in the world'. At the beginning of each month we publish an Earthlearningidea that has been popular during the previous month. In March, it was 'The meeting of the dinosaurs - 100 million years ago'.

This activity is about interpreting the evidence given by dinosaur footprints. At first pupils think the answer is an easy one, that is, that the big dinosaur ate the little one but then they realise that there are lots of different scenarios to explain the evidence -
- the little one was part of a herd ready to attack the big one,
- parent and baby,
- footprints an hour or so apart so they are un-related,
- both animals going to a watering hole - - - - ??
Since ELI began in May 2007, over 900,000 activities have been downloaded. Let us know your thoughts or suggestions for future ELIs - contact ELI team.

Friday 22 March 2013

Modelling the phases of the Moon

The new Earthlearningidea published today is 'Jaffa moon; modelling the phases of the moon using Jaffa CakesTM.
 Ask your pupils to make a log of the shape of the moon over a lunar month, noting the date and time of each observation. They could either do this by direct observation or by research on the internet. When their logs have been completed, ask them to model the phases of the moon using Jaffa CakesTM. They will have to cut or nibble the biscuits carefully to make some of the phases. Then ask them to use their model to complete a series of predictions.
Needless to say, this activity will be much enjoyed by your pupils! It is the first of a series of ELIs about the Moon.

Monday 18 March 2013

Have you played Geobattleships? Do earthquakes and volcanoes coincide?

'Geobattleships' uses a children’s game to match the distribution of volcanoes and earthquakes on the Earth’s surface. The activity provides a useful lead-in to the topic of plate tectonics and is best used before students have become too familiar with the theory.
This is one of many ELIs associated with plate tectonic theory; refer to Teaching strategies for some more ideas.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Soil doughnuts - investigating types of soil

The new ELI this week is 'Soil doughnuts; sorting out soils'
Give the pupils a variety of different soil types ranging from very sandy, through loam to heavy clay. They can then use the table provided to work out which soil type they have. They soon realise that sandy soils allow water through easily and clay soils do not. Gardeners usually prefer loam soils. For a farmer or gardener, it is important to know the soil type so that it can be managed properly and crop production increased.
Along with the other soils activities in the ELI soil series, this can be used in any lesson about the environment, rocks and landscape, agriculture, gardening or investigations out of doors. It is messy, but fun!