Curricular Unit: Rock Cycle

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Colorado Boulder

A yellow road sign: ROCKS - NEXT 4 MILES.
Students explore all facets of the rock cycle
Copyright © 2008 Denise W. Carlson. Used with permission.


Through five lessons, students are introduced to all facets of the rock cycle. Topics include rock and mineral types, material stresses and weathering, geologic time and fossil formation, the Earth's crust and tectonic plates, and soil formation and composition. Lessons are presented in the context of the related impact on humans in the form of roadway and tunnel design and construction, natural disasters, environmental site assessment for building structures, and measurement instrumentation and tools. Hands-on activities include experiencing tensional, compressional and shear material stress by using only hand force to break bars of soap; preparing Jeopardy-type trivia questions/answers for a class game that reinforces students' understanding of rocks and the rock cycle; creating "fossils" using melted chocolate; working within design constraints to design and build a model tunnel through a clay mountain; and soil sampling by creating tools, obtaining soil cores, documenting a soil profile log, and analyzing the findings to make engineering predictions.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers learn about the natural world in order to design the human-built environment. Rocks, soils, fossils and the Earth's crust make up the foundation of the world we depend upon. Engineers must understand the characteristics of these rocks and materials so that they can design big infrastructure projects—such as bridges, foundations, roads and tunnels—to be safe and long-lasting. Geotechnical engineers apply their understanding of rocks to environmental site investigations for the purposes of land development and environmental stewardship. To prevent and limit the destruction of communities and human life, engineers also develop technologies to assess and predict natural hazards caused by rock movement. Engineers apply their understanding of science and math to designing the tools and instrumentation for sampling, sensing, drilling, boring, analyzing and modeling—so we can learn more and predict better.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth's materials and the flow of energy that drives this process. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Unit Overview

Lesson 1 - Rock Solid: An introduction to the types of rocks and minerals, as well as material stresses and weathering

Lesson 2 - Making & Breaking: How natural weathering, erosion, pressure and heat are part of the rock cycle

Lesson 3 - Fantastic Fossils: Geoologic time and fossil formation

Lesson 4 - How Mountains Are Formed: The Earth's crust and tectonic plates as they impact roadways, tunnels, natural resource location and natural disaster prediction

Lesson 5 - Soil Investigations: Soil formation, composition and properties as seen in soil profiles and soil sampling for environmental site assessment

Unit Schedule


See individual lessons and activities.


© 2008 by Regents of the University of Colorado

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Colorado Boulder


This digital library content was developed by the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: August 22, 2017