Students gain an understanding of the layers of the Earth by designing and building clay models.
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- 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
- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- 2. Explain patterns in the number of zeros of the product when multiplying a number by powers of 10, and explain patterns in the placement of the decimal point when a decimal is multiplied or divided by a power of 10. Use whole-number exponents to denote powers of 10. (Grade 5)  ...show
- 5. Fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm. (Grade 5)  ...show
- 1. Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m), and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real world problems. (Grade 5)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- E. Models are used to communicate and test design ideas and processes. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem. (Grades 0 - 2)  ...show
- Describe the layers of the Earth.
- Make a scale model.
- Compare a model of the Earth with what it represents.
- Explain why engineers need to learn about the Earth's structure.
- 3 small balls of clay or Play-Doh® in three colors: red, orange and yellow
- ¼ cup fine sand
- 12-inch ruler
- fishing line, 12 inches
- calculator (optional for scaling worksheet)
- samples of various newspaper articles on any topic
- (optional) Earthquakes Journal Page (see attachments)
Before the Activity
- Make your own clay or Play-Doh model of the Earth to use for demonstration purposes.
With the Students
- Draw an Earth layers diagram on the board, or show Figure 1 as an overhead transparency.
- Introduce the concept of a scale model. (A scale model is a copy of something that has been reduced or increased by a certain factor.)
- Show students the clay model of the Earth that serves as an example of what they are going to create.
- As a class, and if time permits, have groups convert the layers' thickness from miles to kilometers, feet, or meters (see answers below). Write the answers on the board.
- Have students form the inner core using the red clay. (The ball of clay representing the inner core should have a diameter of about 1 centimeter.)
- The second layer of the model is the outer core. Use the orange clay to add ~2 cm layer over the red ball of clay (their inner core). The outer core layer, when added, brings the diameter of the ball to about 3 centimeters.
- The third and final model layer is the mantle. Use the yellow clay to add ~3 cm layer over the orange layer. Adding the mantle layer brings the ball up to a diameter of 6 centimeters.
- Since it is difficult to make a sheet of clay less than one millimeter thick, use a thin layer of sand to represent the crust of the Earth. Ask student to carefully spread the sand, as evenly as possible, on a piece of paper on their desks. Then roll the ball in the sand.
- Instruct groups to cut the ball in half using the fishing line. Opened up, students can visually understand the different layers and compare their thicknesses.
Activity Embedded Assessment
- Print out the attached Scaling Down the Earth – Math Extension Worksheet.
- Pass out calculators.
- Read the worksheet instructions aloud to the class.
- Help students by going over the "Inner Core" as a class. Have them finish the rest of the worksheet independently.
- Have students complete the table by calculating the actual diameters of the Earth's layers.
- What are the minerals found in each layer of the Earth? How do these minerals relate to the state of matter of that layer?
- What are the temperatures of each layer of the Earth?
- Do any other planets have similar layers? If so, do they exhibit any earthquake or volcanic activity?
What do we know about the interior of the Earth? Last modified September 27, 2012. CoreFacts (audio), USGS Multimedia Gallery, US Geological Survey, US Department of the Interior. Accessed December 3, 2012. http://gallery.usgs.gov/audios/207#.ULywU2f543g
Robertson, Eugene C. The Interior of the Earth. Last modified January 14, 2011. US Geological Survey, US Department of the Interior. Accessed December 3, 2012. (A diagram of seismic waves and how they travel through the Earth's interior in this article [Figure 2] is a great graphic to support the information about S waves and how they travel through different layers.) http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/interior/
Jessica Todd, Melissa Straten, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell, Jennifer Greever
© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: August 31, 2015