Surface Changes

Earth & Space Science
Earth Structure and Processes

The surface of the Earth changes. Some changes are due to slow processes and some changes are due to rapid processes.

Benchmark: Rocks to Soil

Explain how, over time, rocks weather and combine with organic matter to form soil.

Benchmark: Processes & Earth's Surface

Explain how slow processes, such as water erosion, and rapid processes, such as landslides and volcanic eruptions, form features of the Earth's surface.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in lay terms:

The Earth's landforms change over time.  Change can occur quickly like an earthquake or more slowly like water erosion.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea:

By the end of 5th grade, students should know that:

1.    Waves, wind, water, and ice shape and reshape the earth's land surface by eroding rock and soil in some areas and depositing them in other areas, sometimes in seasonal layers. 4C/E1

2.    Rock is composed of different combinations of minerals. Smaller rocks come from the breakage and weathering of bedrock and larger rocks. Soil is made partly from weathered rock, partly from plant remains-and also contains many living organisms. 4C/E2

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks: - Explain how, over time, rocks weather and combine with organic matter to form soil. - Explain how slow processes, such as water erosion, and rapid processes, such as landslides and volcanic eruptions, form features of the Earth's surface.


PBS Kids river video


Earthquake/Fault Cartoon


NSES Standards:pp 158-160 on the attached link

NSES Standards

AAAS Atlas Maps out what students should have as background from previous years and also shows what they will do with the information you are teaching in years to come. AAAS Project 2061

Waves, wind, water, and ice shape and reshape the earth's land surface by eroding rock and soil in some areas and depositing them in other areas, sometimes in seasonal layers. 4C/E1 4C/E1

Some changes in the earth's surface are abrupt (such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions) while other changes happen very slowly (such as uplift and wearing down of mountains). 4C/M2a

Rock is composed of different combinations of minerals. Smaller rocks come from the breakage and weathering of bedrock and larger rocks. Soil is made partly from weathered rock, partly from plant remains-and also contains many living organisms. 4C/E2

Benchmarks of Science Literacy

In these years, students should accumulate more information about the physical environment, becoming familiar with the details of geological features, observing and mapping locations of hills, valleys, rivers, etc., but without elaborate classification. Students should also become adept at using magnifiers to inspect a variety of rocks and soils. The point is not to classify rigorously but to notice the variety of components.

Students should now observe elementary processes of the rock cycle-erosion, transport, and deposit. Water and sand boxes and rock tumblers can provide them with some firsthand examples. Later, they can connect the features to the processes and follow explanations of how the features came to be and still are changing. Students can build devices for demonstrating how wind and water shape the land and how forces on materials can make wrinkles, fand faults. Films of volcanic magma and ash ejection dramatize another source of buildup

Common Core Standards (i.e. connections with Math, Social Studies or Language Arts Standards):

5.2.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. For example, students will read text and need to respond to it either written or verbally.

5.2.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

5.2.4  Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

5.2.7  Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. Students will use graphs, charts, tables to understand and compare results.

5.2.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and information texts independently and proficiently.

5.6.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

5.6.7 Conduct short as well a more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation. For exam[le, studnets could research a topic related to the subject matter.

5.6.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoicing plagiarism.

5.6.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single setting or a day or two) for a range or tasks, purposes, and audiences. Science notebooks would provide the opportunity to meet this standard.

5.8.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively and orally. During science digital media such as webquests, videos are used to help explain a concept, students also are presented with information orally and through experiments in which quantitative data is used to make a point.

5.8.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations. when students present information they should utilize tools such as prezi, powerpoint or other visual aids to help the audience connect and understand their information.

Math read and write decimals using place value to describe decimals. create and use rules, tables, spreadsheets and graphs to describe patterns of change and solve problems. create and analyze double-bar graphs and line graphs.


Student Misconceptions 
  • Water cannot wear away solid rock
  • Wind and water cannot wear away solid rock to change the path of a river
  • Water cannot carry rocks and deposit them in a new location
  • Landforms look similar today as they did many millions of years ago. For example, a river on earth today hasn't changed over time
  • Water that freezes in cracks in rock cannot break the rock
  • Wind and water cannot wear away the solid rock of a mountain.
  • Earthquakes are often thought to be only destructive, however, earthquakes are also building landforms.
  • Soil and dirt are the same thing.
  • Volcanoes are often thought to have only violent eruptions, however, some volcanoes act more like streams of molten lava flowing over the side of the volcano creating land.
  • Streams are simply flowing water (with little to no concept of sediment movement).
  • Idea that human activities cannot affect geological processes like river flow, flood cycles, etc.
  • Most of following are tied to general idea of 'stasis', the idea that the Earth's surface and geological processes do not fundamentally change over time.
  • Floods are rare, atypical, almost unnatural events rather than normal river behavior.

AAAS Project 2061 Science Assessment Website (free registration required)


In Mrs. H's science class the students work in cooperative groups to work with stream tables to discover how water erodes earth material and makes changes to the earth's surface. Students work with stream tables, earth material,(sand, clay, diatomatious earth) and water to discover how water moves through the earth material eroding and causing change in the landscape. Pictures of streams, the Grand Canyon, other waterways would be posted or shown on a smart board/projector for students to observe and discuss. Mrs. H poses these possible questions to the students, "Why does the stream flow in the direction it does?" "Why do we often see bends or meanders in the stream/river?" "What else do you notice about the water and land?" Students would record their thoughts into their science notebooks and then continue on with the procedures for setting up the stream table.

The cooperative groups work together to set up their stream tables and each group is checked for appropriate set up by Mrs. H. Students begin by observing a slow flow of water through the stream table, using a quart container with a small hole drilled into the bottom. They  use timers and record when key events happen so they can later compare the "slow flow" to a "flood flow". They should be noticing that the particles in the earth material are not all the same, (sand, clay, silt) they vary in color and in size. When the container of water is depleted Mrs. H asks the class to make some additional observations and to draw a diagram of their stream table into their science notebook indicating the different particle sizes by using different colors to identify the different materials. Then Mrs. H asks the class some questions which might include..."Which particles moved the furthest away from the earth materials? Why?" "What might have caused the meander in the water-way?"

Use the stream table to come up with a definition for the word "erosion",discuss as a class and agree on a definition that is suitable. You could also introduce  the word "deposition" at this time.

Mrs. H then continues the lesson the following day and uses a flood source (quart container with a larger hole drilled into the bottom) to compare the erosion results. Again, students time key events, draw a diagram so they are able to compare the two investigations.

As a possible extension Mrs. H. then challenges the class to come up with designing a community in the stream table, each group must have at least 10 homes in the community, they are given a budget to "purchase" items to help stop erosion, plants, craft sticks, aluminum foil, plastic, paper bags, straws-just about anything you can find in a classroom. When the group is finished planning their community, purchasing their supplies from the "store" they then construct their stream table and test it by running water through the stream table. Once the water is completely through, they then look for damages and deduct given amounts of money for any damaged property. Homes that are not damaged earn the group money. The groups compete to see who can earn the most "money" from the "sale" of  homes. They continue the study of the earth's structure by exploring the quickly changing forces that occur within earth's system.

Essential Questions for this vignette:

  • What happens when water flows over earth materials
  • What happens to the earth materials eroded by water?
  • How does the size of a particle affect deposition?

Teacher Prep video Stream table teacher video, as an example of how this might look in a classroom. In the Teacher Resources video file section

Exploratorium Stream Table Guide step by step guide for presenting a stream table lesson.


Instructional Notes 

Selected activities,

Benchmark What makes soil? Learning about Our Local Soils. In this activity, soil samples will be taken from students' home sites and brought to school. Students will make and record observations of their soil samples in their journals. Students will come up with ways of "sorting" the components of their sample to determine what their samples are made of. Students will test their sorting strategies. Students will revise their original journal entries. Students will share their findings with the group. The teacher will begin teaching a unit on soil based on ideas from a unit developed by Utah Agriculture in the Classroom from the Utah State University Extension called, Dirt: Secrets in the Soil. I would use this after students have shown understanding of erosion.

Benchmark The Dirt on Soil  Through hands-on exploration, students will learn about three basic soil types and some of their physical properties. Extention-Concepts of porosity and permeability will be developed through experimentation. Students will design and implement a model of a water treatment plant.

Benchmark Minnesota specific information from the DNR. Classroom sets  of  "Digging into MN Minerals" and "Reclaiming MN Minerals" are available. MN DNR Digging into MN Minerals

Benchmark Many soil activities that tie to this standard  along with opportunities to become involved in research that is connected to other schools around the world. Soil

Benchmark Students will shake a box containing Plaster of Paris "rocks", gravel, and sand, to measure the effects of erosion.

Changing Rocks

Benchmark Use cardboard models of the North American and Pacific plates and sand to investigate what happens when there is an earthquake or movement along the boundaries of the plates. PALS Faultline

Benchmark Foss Land Forms module stream table lessons allow students to explore erosion first hand, this is the example used in the vignette, very easy to make your own stream tables.

Benchmark Stream table inquiry lesson, students discover what happens when water and earth materials interact. Stream Table

Benchmark Uncovering Plate Tectonics lesson In this investigation, students will be given an opportunity to make the connection between plate boundaries/movement and the topographic features of the earth. A deeper look into tectonic movement will build upon the how and why of volcanoes, earthquakes, mountains, trenches, valleys and the building and breaking down processes of the the earth.

Benchmark Volcanic Eruption Students participate in a popular experiment with Mentos candies and soda. This helps them learn about the scientific method, gas saturation, bubble nucleation, and explosive volcanic eruptions. Opportunities to measure passage of time, distance of eruption.

Benchmark  Snack tectonics Students learn how Earth's tectonic plates (lithosphere) ride atop the slow flowing asthenosphere layer. Students understand how plates interact at their boundaries. A very simple activity but the concept of becomes very clear and memorable for students.

Benchmark will conduct a series of experiments in pairs through which they will explore the processes and effects of weathering and erosion. Using the results from these explorations, they will design and conduct an experiment comparing the rate of erosion in different biomes. This activity not only allows students to learn about weathering and erosion, but also illustrates how scientists often use the results of one experiment to inspire another and/or use initial observations to inform a hypothesis.

Weathering and Erosion

Instructional suggestions:

An extensive collection of best practice techniques that could be used in any classroom setting.

SERC Pedagogies

Some specific best practice techniques to look at would be:
            *Socratic questioning techniques Socratic Questioning

*Gallery walks Gallery Walks

Science notebooking is a way to teach students how to record data in a clear and precise way. The students will take ownership in their work and be able to share their data with others. It also allows an experiment to be retested based on the information that the student recorded. FOSS Science Notebooking

Science notebook presentation, how to set up a science notebook Interactive Science Notebook How to

Scientific Method explained using smart notebook Smart Exchange

Components of good assessment PALS Assessment

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources or links

FOSS web stories, The Real People of the Grand Canyon FOSS Web

Electronic book on Glaciers Glacier Electronic Book

Electronic book on Volcanoes Volcano Electronic book

On-line curriculum that may be used to enhance or extend learning for students. Through research articles, inquiry-based activities, videos, games, and other multimedia, students investigate and analyze Earth's past, present, and future to unlock its geologic mysteries.

Jason Project

General information about various science topics including lessons related to this standard and others.

United States Geological Society

Rock Review Smart Exchange notebook file for use with smart notebook

Weathering notebook file for use with Smart Notebook Smart Exchange Weathering

Weathering and erosion review for use with Smart Notebook Smart Exchange Weathering and Erosion Review

What is an earthquake Smart Notebook file Smart Exchange Earthquake

This lesson from the NATURE episode, "Kilauea: Mountain of Fire" introduces students to plate tectonics, as well as volcanoes and the effects of volcanic activity. PBS Volcanoes

The Paleontological Research Institution and its Museum of the Eath has put together virtual fieldtrips. In this example, Ms. G had taken a hike in the woods and found a rock feature that didn't match its surroundings. Through virtual fieldwork that she created, she engaged her students in the puzzle of figuring out why the place looked the way it did. Inquiry Standard is also met.  Virtual Field Work Vignette Pa

1: What is this place?

In this example, Ms. G had taken a hike in the and found a rock feature

BrainPop is a subscription service that also has some "free" videos available for students and teachers to use to explain concepts in all subject areas. Vocabulary activities are included in most videos along with additional information and activities.

BrainPop movies that address Benchmark

BrainPOP Soil

BrainPOP Weathering

BrainPop movies that address Benchmark

BrainPOP Floods

BrainPOP Erosion

BrainPOP Volcanoes

BrainPOP Natural Disasters

BrainPOP Mountains

BrainPOP Tsunami

BrainPOP Earthquakes

New Vocabulary 


Erosion: The breakdown and removal of soil and rock by water, wind or other forces.*







Rocks: relatively hard, naturally formed mineral or petrified matter; stone.

Sediment: Tiny bits of rock, shell, dead plants, or other materials transported and deposited by wind, rain, or ice.*

Organic material: derived from living organisms                   

Soil: the top layer of the earth's surface, consisting of rock and mineral particles mixed with organic matter

Compost: a mixture of decaying organic matter, as from leaves and manure  used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients.

Runoff: rainfall not absorbed by soil

Flood: A very heavy flow of water, which is greater than normal flow of water and goes over the stream's normal channel.*

Volcanic eruption: powerfully explosive discharge from a volcano

Glacier: A large mass or body of moving ice. *

Earthquake: a sudden movement of the earth's crust caused by the release of stress accumulated along geologic faults or by volcanic activity

Tectonic plate: One of the rigid pieces of the Earth's crust.

Fault: A break in the Earth's crust along which blocks of rock move past each other.*

Crust: The solid, rocky outer shell of the Earth.*

Landslide: the downward sliding of a relatively dry mass of earth and rock.

Weathering: any chemical or mechanical processes by which rocks exposed to weather undergo changes in character and break down.

Slope: The angle or slant of a stream channel or land surface.*

* obtained from the FOSS website FOSS Web

all others obtained from Yahoo Dictionary

Technology Connections 

Virtual Cave WebQuest Use as a webquest, Virtual Cave which gives examples of rock/mineral formations created by slow processes.

Virtual Volcano virtual volcano tours and games

Scratch interactive programing site to use with any subject matter but easily could be used with science. Use to assess student knowledge of concepts Scratch Programming or Scratch Programming Support

Website with lesson plans for use with Smart boards Smart Exchange

Web-based presentation software for students to use to present information or for you to use to get information to students. Prezi Presentation



Resource for components of good assessments PALS guide to performance assessment

1. Explain how the process of sandblasting (for example, machines blow sand at surfaces like a painted house to strip the paint off) is like the natural process of wind erosion? (analysis)

Sandblasting and wind erosion can be compared because they are both breaking down the surfaces by sand hitting it, sandblasting happens with more force and speed so it happens faster than erosion, but the concept is similar because they both are breaking down the surfaces of the rock and the paint.

2. Why would California have more earthquakes than Minnesota? (knowledge)

California is on top of two plates, Minnesota isn't. In order to have an earthquake two plates need to move.

3. Illustrate and explain how soil forms. (comprehension and analysis)

Verify that they have included various particles (organic matter, air, water and rocks)

4. How might you build a building to withstand an earthquake?-this could support an engineering standard.

A resource for looking at suggestions as to how to assess science. pp 75-102

National Science Education Standards Assessment Suggestions

Teachers: 1. Soil is made up of several components, what are they? How does the make up of these components change the way the soil is used?

2. How are plate tectonics related to tsunamis, earth quakes and volcanoes?

3. How are deposition and erosion the same/different, explain their destruction and usefulness.


Students engaged in hands-on activities using earth materials and water. Creating models of landforms or plates to explain and explore how the plates on the earth move and change the earth's surface. Students recording information and observations into science notebooks that compare and contrast the differences in soil samples from various places.


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk:

The suggestions given on the website for Special Education Students would also apply here.

Additional exposure or pre-exposure to activities can be helpful.  Build cooperative learning groups carefully. Students must be grouped with students who will allow them to participate and use their strengths.  Adapted from: Supporting Special Education Students in Science

English Language Learners 

The following link will bring you to a pdf that outlines some great ideas to support your ELL students. ** This is a general article that would be helpful to any science ELL situation-Improving Science and Vocabulary Learning of  English Language Learners

Extending the Learning 


What Should a Science Curriculum for Gifted Students Include?

At the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary, the past six years has been spent addressing issues of appropriate science curriculum and instruction for high ability students as well as melding those ideas to the template of curriculum reform for all students in science. Consequently, the elements essential for high ability learners also have saliency for other learners as well. The most important include the following elements:

An Emphasis on Learning Concepts. By restructuring science curriculum to emphasize those ideas deemed most appropriate for students to know and grounded in the view of the disciplines held by practicing scientists, we allow students to learn at deeper levels the fundamental ideas central to understanding and doing science in the real world. Concepts such as systems, change, reductionism, and scale all provide an important scaffold for learning about the core ideas of science that do not change, although the specific applications taught about them may.

An Emphasis on Higher-Level Thinking. Students need to learn about important science concepts and also to manipulate those concepts in complex ways. Having students analyze the relationship between real world problems, like an acid spill on the highway, and the implications of that incident for understanding science and for seeing the connections between science and society provides opportunities for both critical and creative thinking within a problem-based episode.

An Emphasis on Inquiry, Especially Problem-Based Learning. The more that students can construct their understanding about science for themselves, the better able they will be to encounter new situations and apply appropriate scientific processes to them. Through guided questions by the teacher, collaborative dialogue and discussion with peers, and individual exploration of key questions, students can grow in the development of valuable habits of mind found among scientists, such as skepticism, objectivity, and curiosity (VanTassel-Baska, Gallagher, Bailey, & Sher, 1993).

An Emphasis on the Use of Technology as a Learning Tool. The use of technology to teach science offers some exciting possibilities for connecting students to real world opportunities. Access to the world of scientific papers through CD-ROM databases offers new avenues for exploration. Internet access provides teachers wonderful connections to well-constructed units of study in science as well as ideas for teaching key concepts, and e-mail allows students to communicate directly with scientists and other students around the world on questions related to their research projects.

An Emphasis on Learning the Scientific Process, Using Experimental Design Procedures. One of the realities we have uncovered is how little students know about experimental design and its related processes. Typically, basal texts will offer canned experiments where students follow the steps to a preordained conclusion. Rarely are they encouraged to design their own experiments. Such original work in science would require them to read and discuss a particular topic of interest, come up with a problem about that topic to be tested, and then follow through in a reiterative fashion with appropriate procedures, further discussion, a reanalysis of the problem, and communication of findings to a relevant audience. Planning Science Programs for High-Ability Learners


The Multicultural Resource Center has a variety of resources available to support multicultural science instruction.  St Paul Public Schools Multicultural Science Education Resources

Teaching Science to Native American Students


Special Education 

The following link will bring you to proven strategies that are specific to science. Supporting Special Education Students in Science



See A Guide for Parents developed by SciMathMN

Take your child to a state park, many offer naturalist programs. Minnesota State Parks

Encourage your child to collect rocks, make pet rocks, love rocks.