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Wake Forest Charter Academy Students Learn Layers of the Earth Through Hands-On Activities

Learning layers of the Earth turns from just a science lesson to a hands-on art project that allowed students at Wake Forest Charter Academy to absorb details.

Erika Hathaway, sixth-grade science and social studies teacher at Wake Forest, wanted to give students a hands-on activity that would help them visualize the layers of the Earth, especially the difference in thickness between each layer, and help them review key facts about each layer.

“Integrating art into science is easy because science is so beautiful,” said Hathaway. “It's helpful for students because making things visual and kinesthetic is really the best way for them to understand things like layering, movement, and cause-and-effect.”

Simple labs like this also help students practice lab procedures and safety rules. Each student has a different job during the labs, so it's helpful to practice when it's something more simplistic.

“Hands-on projects are so important in my classroom!” said Hathaway. “We have so many different types of learners and hands-on activities are a way to reach them all.” 

This project aligned with academic standard 6.E.2.1, which is “Summarize the structure of the earth, including the layers, the mantle and core based on the relative position, composition, and density.”

Students said it was helpful to understand the varying thickness of each layer. This activity was also a way to review facts about each layer because as they were taking turns forming each layer, they were describing and creating the label for it.

Part two of this lab included a balloon investigation. The point of this lab was to help students understand how geologists can discover what’s below the Earth’s crust without being able to see it.

There were five trays that went around room and each tray had two black balloons on them. Students had to try to figure out what was inside the balloons without seeing inside. They could touch, bounce, smell, squish, and look around the room for clues of what they were filled with. Students had to write down their hypothesis of what was inside with at least two supporting pieces of evidence.

A was filled with salt, B was filled with sand, C was filled with CO2, D was filled with water, and E was filled with hole punch confetti.

“We discussed how geologists are able to use clues, such as seismic waves, aging rock layers, temperature readings, evidence of magnetic poles, etc., as well as their base knowledge of things like density,” said Hathaway. “This helps them figure out what each layer is made of and what state of matter they’re in.”

Way to go, Wake Forest!