OpenSciEd: 6.4 Plate Tectonics and Rock Cycling 1-Class Unit Kit


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Grades 6–8. In Unit 6.4 Plate Tectonics and Rock Cycling, Carolina Certified Version*, students work to answer the Unit Driving Question: "What causes Earth's surface to change?"

Students are presented with the 2015 Himalayan earthquake at Mt. Everest that resulted in scientists from Nepal and China collaborating to determine what, if any, changes had occurred to Mt. Everest. Students find that Mt. Everest has grown in elevation over the years. Students also discover that Mt. Everest is steadily moving to the northeast every year. This leads to questions about whether changes are happening to other mountains in the world. Students analyze data from five other mountain peaks and their surroundings and find that some other mountains are also growing in elevation, while others are decreasing or not changing in elevation. Students brainstorm ideas for what could be causing these changes to mountains and create an initial consensus model to explain how mountains can move, grow, and shrink.

Using ideas brainstormed as potential causes of mountain changes, students begin by investigating earthquakes. Students analyze another location that has shifted vertically and horizontally during an earthquake and begin keeping track of whether events that happen are linked through causal or correlational relationships. The class discovers it gets hot enough underground to make hard solid rock shift and move, and they connect this with the long lines of earthquakes at different places on the world map to develop a profile model of North America from the Pacific to the middle of the Atlantic. Students analyze plate movement data and carry out investigations to model what could happen as these plates move and interact. Students conclude that plate movement is the cause of earthquakes and that earthquakes are correlated to mountains moving.

Over the course of the rest of the unit, students analyze data from many locations and time periods, applying the ideas of temporal and spatial scales accompanied by causal and correlational relationships to determine the reason why mountains and landscapes grow, move, and shrink. The unit ends with students using what they have figured out about uplift and erosion to explain how an exposed marine fossil was found near the top of Mt. Everest.

This unit supports students to:

  • Develop a model of Earth that connects movement in the mantle with movement of plates at Earth's surface and determine causal and correlational relationships between plate movement, earthquakes, volcanoes, erosion, and magma movement along with their related energy sources.
  • Develop a model to show how plates collide or spread apart from one another over long periods of time, forming the different landforms we see.
  • Analyze multiple sources of data and information (e.g., large data sets on maps, cross-section graphs, text, tables, and labs) to construct models and explanations for processes that build up and wear down Earth's surface over different timescales.
  • Explain how processes above the surface and below the surface work together to cause the changes seen at and below the surface.

This 1-Class Unit Kit includes basic teacher access to instructional materials on, plus the materials needed to teach 1 class of 32 students per day.

Building Toward NGSS Performance Expectations

  • MS-ESS1-4: Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence from rock strata for how the geologic time scale is used to organize Earth's 4.6-billion-year-old history.
  • MS-ESS2-1: Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth's materials and the flow of energy that drives this process.
  • MS-ESS2-2: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales.
  • MS-ESS2-3: Analyze and interpret data on the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to provide evidence of the past plate motions.

Science and Engineering Practices

  • Developing and Using Models
  • Using Mathematical and Computational Thinking
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data

The following practices are also key to the sensemaking in the unit:

  • Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Focal Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • ESS1.C
  • ESS2.A
  • ESS2.B
  • ESS2.C

Focal Crosscutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect
  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  • Stability and Change

The following crosscutting concept is also key to the sensemaking in the unit:

  • Patterns

*All enhancements to materials and instruction for this Carolina Certified Version of the unit are approved by OpenSciEd to preserve the integrity of the storyline and the instructional model.


What’s Included:
  •  Unit Technology Pack (basic digital access to teacher's guide and all instructional resources for the teacher)
  •  Bag, Plastic, Resealable, 9 x 12"
  •  Basalt
  •  Card Sets, Earth Material
  •  Card Sets, Landmass Cut
  •  Card Sets, Mountain Data
  •  Cardboard Sleeves
  •  Earth Squish Balls, Labeled
  •  Earth Squish Balls, Not Labeled
  •  Food Coloring, Assorted Colors, Set of 4
  •  Globe, Inflatable, 16"
  •  Granite, Gray
  •  Heating Pad
  •  Lenses, Dual Hand
  •  Limestone, Fossil
  •  Modeling Clay, Blue, 1 lb
  •  NOAA Global Relief Map
  •  Pans, Aluminum Baking, Disposable
  •  Paper Clip, No. 1, Box of 100
  •  Plate Movement Maps
  •  Sand, Marine, 5-lb Bag
  •  Sandstone, Tan/Gray
  •  Sets, Evidence Map
  •  Sets, Landmass Reference
  •  Tanks, Plastic, 1-1/2 gal
  •  Top Loading Sheet Protector
  •  Aluminum Foil, Roll
  •  Cups, Plastic, 2 oz, with Lid
  •  Foam Panels, 8-1/2 x 11"
  •  Foam Sheet, EVA, 54 x 12 x 1/4"
  •  Labels, Assorted, 1/4"
  •  Note Pad, Self-Adhesive, Large
  •  Note Pads, Self-Adhesive, Medium
  •  Pad, Styrofoam®, 1/2 x 8 x 8"
Needed But Not Included:
Return Policy:

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