Academic journal article Science Scope

National Parks Investigation: Exploring Types of Rocks

Academic journal article Science Scope

National Parks Investigation: Exploring Types of Rocks

Article excerpt

Types of rocks and the rock cycle are not topics many middle schoolers are particularly excited to study. The processes involved take millions of years or only occur in places students never get to observe, so it is necessary to find a way to make geological processes relevant to students' lives. I struggled to find lessons and activities that would engage my students in types of rocks and the rock cycle until I implemented an investigation into the types of rocks found in national parks. This unit is designed to introduce the three types of rocks: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. Acting as geologists for the national parks service, students investigate three national parks, including Devil's Tower, Badlands, and Rocky Mountain National Park. They explore how the rock formations there were created and changed over time. The unit can be used as an introduction to the rock cycle, and foundational ideas about types of rocks developed here can be expanded on in later lessons to further emphasize how the types of rocks are interconnected and change over time.


The purpose of the Engage phase of the unit is to gauge background knowledge about rocks in general, as well as student knowledge of the national park system. It also serves to motivate students and get them interested in the topic. Before starting the unit, display a variety of rock samples so students can observe and handle them before class. This will catch the interest of students right away and get them asking questions. Some interesting types of rocks that could be on display include granite, obsidian, sandstone, shale, and fossils in limestone. Rock samples can be obtained from science supply companies or found outside in your local area. Students should wash their hands after handling the rocks.

To introduce the topic, I first asked students if any of them have visited a national park. Because we are hours away from the nearest national park, I was excited to see many hands in the air. However, as students began naming what they thought were national parks, places such as Kings Island and Holiday World, I realized most students did not even know what a national park was. Luckily, there are multiple state parks near the school, which nearly all students were familiar with. I used the local parks as a foundation to build up their ideas of national parks. The students thought of local parks as areas used only for recreation. I explained that national parks are different from local parks in that they are protected areas designed to conserve natural resources. In order to hook students and get them excited about investigating types of rocks, show the short video "See all U.S. National Parks in One Minute" or look at pictures of various national parks around the country (see Resources). Because 2016 was the centennial celebration of the national parks system, we also explored the history of the national park system and discussed why national parks are important. The National Park Service website is an excellent resource for developing background knowledge about geology and history of the national parks (see Resources). Discussing the conservation efforts of national parks connects to broader concepts of natural resources, climate change, and the effects of humans on the environment.

FIGURE 2: Student directions and information

Igneous rocks

You are a geologist working for the National Parks Service. Your job
is to investigate different rock formations and create informational
articles for the national parks website. For your first investigation
you will be researching Devil's Tower National Monument. Use your
Chromebook and notes to help you find information about the rock
formations in the park. For your final report you will need to include:

1. Three facts about the park.
2. How did the igneous rock in the park form? (You might find more
   than one way scientists think it formed. You only have to describe
   one. … 
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