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Though you can’t tell just by looking at them, layers of sediments tell us much about
Earth’s history—when the ocean flooded continents, when mountains were formed, when climate was warmer or cooler, and so much more. Stratigraphy, the study of sediment layers and the relationships between rocks and fossils with time, has done much to help us understand Earth. While heading out to real-life dig sites with your students is not so realistic, there is a safe, fun, effective way to introduce geology concepts to elementary school children of all ages: “coring” layer cakes! All it takes is some simple baking to create a model of sediment layers and their fossil record. Exploring this topic in the classroom allows your students to learn about how geologists work while they explore Earth science.
A selection from Science and Children – December 2006
In Kentucky, I taught in a K-5 science lab. For 4th grade, we studied fossils and what types of inferences can be made about organisms and the earth by using them. This article gave me a great new idea! I did this lesson 3 days in a row since I had 3 fourth grade classes...just baked each night. It was actually quite easy and fun! I used small plastic dinosaurs from my son's birthday and shoved them in a layer after it was baked. As we dissected the cake pieces and found the fossil evidence, the kids really understood that the deeper they dug, the older the layer of earth. We had a key to explain what the ingredients stood for - cranberries = fish fossils. They were able to see that the same piece of land was once under water that later had become dry land as evidenced by the dinosaur fossils. This was a great addition to my unit!
Cori Coleman (Ft. Collins, CO)
Students learn key terminology about sediments, stratification, and more by taking core samples of a layer cake and observing and recording what they find. The creation of the layer cake is described in this article. Artifacts are embedded in the layers to represent fossils found. Through this activity students learn about stratigraphic principles and learn about geologic sampling in an elementary classroom. This is a great idea even if you aren’t the best baker.
Adah (San Antonio, TX)
This is a great article about creating a layer cake earth that students can take core samples from. Students experience how a scientist works while learning in a fun way.
Betty Paulsell (Kansas City, MO)
The hands on activity looked very involved at first. As I read the article I realized it was doable for my classroom. The directions are very detailed and the writer explains each step so I could fully understand. I plan to try this activity with one of my classes. It seems to be a great lesson.
Ruth Friedlander-Levantis (Pleasant Valley, NY)
This is article introduces an excellent idea for teaching the earth's layers using cake mix. This innovative method of modeling is a cost effective, and engaging way to teach stratigraphic principles. The article includes examples of student activity sheets, fossil symbols, and includes a connection to the National Science Standards. The article explains key science terms and includes pictures of students engaging in the exercise in a classroom environment. This is an excellent activity that will surely engage students in learning about stratigraphic principles.
Maureen Stover (Seaside, CA)
Although I have not tried this activity, it sounds like it would be so engaging for late elementary students and have so many possibilities for extensions and modifications. I really liked the idea of adding "fossils" to the mix, and also creating "fault zones" within the cake. I would like to see the groups compare notes about their "cores" and try to come up with a 3-D model of the strata. Perhaps we could also have some erosion and facies changes to make it interesting for older students.
Jennifer Rahn (Delafield, WI)
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