This hands-on activity explores five different forms of erosion (chemical, water, wind, glacier and temperature). Students rotate through stations and model each type of erosion on rocks, soils and minerals. The students record their observations and discuss the effects of erosion on the Earth's landscape. Students learn about how engineers are involved in the protection of landscapes and structures from erosion. Math problems are included to help students think about the effects of erosion in real-world scenarios.
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- Colorado: Math
- Colorado: Science
- a. Analyze and interpret data identifying ways Earth's surface is constantly changing through a variety of processes and forces such as plate tectonics, erosion, deposition, solar influences, climate, and human activity (Grade 5)  ...show
- b. Develop and communicate an evidence based scientific explanation around one or more factors that change Earth's surface (Grade 5)  ...show
- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- 3. Solve multistep word problems posed with whole numbers and having whole-number answers using the four operations, including problems in which remainders must be interpreted. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies including rounding. (Grade 4)  ...show
- 5. Fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm. (Grade 5)  ...show
- 7. Apply and extend previous understandings of division to divide unit fractions by whole numbers and whole numbers by unit fractions. (Grade 5)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Make observations and/or measurements to provide evidence of the effects of weathering or the rate of erosion by water, ice, wind, or vegetation. (Grade 4)  ...show
- List several different types of erosion.
- Compare and contrast the effects of various types of erosion.
- Discuss how engineers work to prevent erosion.
To share with the entire class:
- Glass tray or Petri dish
- Rock samples that contain mineral calcite (calcium carbonate); e.g., limestone, marble, certain cement/mortar
- Other rock samples (brick, granite, most gravel)
- Weak acid (e.g., lemon juice or vinegar)
- Magnifying glass
- Paper towels
- Large container (e.g., a deep plastic bin at least 18 inches x 9 inches)
- Moist soil
- 12 coins or poker chips
- Paper towels
- Watering can (one with several holes in the spout)
- Small-size motorized fan (handheld if possible)
- Large bin or box with no top
- Ice cubes (enough for one for each group)
- Modeling clay (do NOT use Play-Doh®)
- Paper towels
- Heat source (e.g., burner or hot plate) • 3 glass beakers
- Plastic tongs
- Marbles (one for each group)
Each group should have:
- Two copies of the Erosion Worksheet (or, one per student).
The teacher should have:
- One stopwatch, clock or wristwatch to time 7-8 minute rotation intervals.
|Rain containing acids that form in the atmosphere when industrial gas emissions (especially sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) combine with water.|
|The act or process by which an agent of erosion, such as wind or water, lays down matter (sediment).|
|The wearing away of the surface of the Earth by natural processes (weathering, dissolution, abrasion, corrosion, etc.).|
|The scientific study of the origin, history and structure of the Earth.|
|A huge mass of ice slowly flowing over a land mass, formed from compacted snow in an area where snow accumulation exceeds melting.|
|A type of sedimentary rock consisting of the mineral calcium carbonate.|
|Material that settles to the bottom of a liquid.|
|Gradual physical and chemical wearing away of rocks.|
Before the Activity
- Gather materials and make copies of the Erosion Worksheet.
- Set up five stations, and disperse the materials to the correct station.
- Make sure to label the rock samples for the chemical erosion station.
- Make sure to place soil in the container for the water erosion station.
- Make sure to set up a pile of sand in the large box or outside for the sand erosion station. Note: Place the fan far enough away from the sand so that it will not blow it all over the place. (The idea is to move a layer of sand from the center, to the another side of the box; gradually moving the entire "sand dune.")
With the Students
- Take one of the rocks and place it in the glass tray.
- Slowly add drops of lemon juice/vinegar to the rock using the eye dropper.
- Observe the rock with the magnifying glass.
- Record your observations on your Erosion Worksheet. (Specifically, did the rock bubble when you placed the weak acid on it?)
- Discuss with your partners why you think such a reaction occurred.
- Remove the rock, dry it off, and set it off to the side of the rest of the rocks.
- Pour out any liquid from the glass tray into the sink.
- Repeat steps 1-7 with all the remaining rocks.
- In a large container, form a mountain of soil about 3 inches across (wide at the top) and about 5 or 6 inches tall in the container.
- Press the coins/chips into the surface of the dirt/clay. (Place them at different angles with the edge protruding out; leave about half the coin showing.)
- Create a rainstorm by pouring water on the mountain with the watering can.
- Record your observations. (Are the coins sticking out more or less? What does the bottom of the mountain look like?)
- Remove the coins and put them back onto a paper towel to dry.
- Drain the water into a sink.
- Form a pile of sand in the center of the box (approximately 5 or 6 inches tall).
- Using the fan, blow air lightly over the sand from one end of the box to the other.
- Record your observations. (Did the pile of sand move?)
- Take a ball of clay from the container (approximately 1-2 inches in diameter).
- Flatten the clay onto the surface on the tray.
- Press an ice cube against the flattened clay and move it back and forth several times.
- Record your observations. (Does anything happen to the clay when you rub the ice cube on it?)
- Place a small pile of sand on the clay and then place the ice cube on top of the sand for 1-2 minutes.
- Pick up the ice cube and observe the surface of the cube that was touching the sand and record your observations. (What does the bottom of the ice cube look like?)
- Place the same side of the ice cube on the sandy part of the clay and move it back and forth several times.
- Remove the ice cube and wipe away the sand from the surface of the clay.
- Record your observations. (What does the texture of the surface of the clay feel like?)
- Place the clay back where it came from and throw away the remaining ice and sand.
- PUT ON SAFETY GOGGLES!!!!
- Use the tongs to place the marble into the beaker.
- Turn the burner on about ¾ of the way.
- Leave the marble in the beaker for 5 minutes.
- While you are waiting, make sure you have enough water in one beaker and ice in the other beaker.
- After 5 minutes have passed, turn off the burner.
- Use the tongs to place the marble briefly into the water and then into the beaker of ice.
- Look at the marble and record your observations.
- You may now take off your safety goggles.
- Do you know what erosion is?
- What is an example of erosion that you have seen in nature?
Activity Embedded Assessment
Cavers, Curtis. Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, Crops, "Soil Management on Potato Land," March 2006, accessed August 1, 2006. http://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/crops/potatoes/bda01s30.html
The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, Education and Manpower Bureau, Science Education Section, Science (S1-3), Unit 5: The Wonderful Solvent: Water, Articles, "Acid Rain," accessed July 25, 2006. http://resources.ed.gov.hk/~s1sci/R_S1Science /sp/en/syllabus/unit5/article-ar.htm
National Geophysical Data Center, NOAA Satellite and Information Service, Natural Hazards, "Erosional Landforms," May 3, 2005, accessed August 1, 2006. http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/seg/hazard/slideset/24/24_slides.shtml
United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Erosion, accessed August 1, 2006. http://www.mo.nrcs.usda.gov/news/MOphotogallery/erosion.html
United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Erosion. http://www.ctenvirothon.org/studyguides/soil_docs/wind_water_erosion_pics.pdf Accessed August 1, 2006.
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Landslide Hazards Program, "USGS Landslide Hazards," November 28, 2005, accessed August 1, 2006. http://landslides.usgs.gov/
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Activities to Explore Acid Rain and Building Stones: Activity 9, "Does This Material React With Acid?" July 3, 2001, accessed August 1, 2006. http://geology.er.usgs.gov/eastern/acid9.html
Teresa Ellis, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell
© 2006 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: November 26, 2015