Geologic Time Scale Activities: Which works best?

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    Richard Bex

    The Geologic Time Scale is taught in almost every K-12 Earth Science class and introductory geology courses. There are many different activities used to teach it, including ones similar to the attached activity.  What many teachers want to know is, which ones have been the most successful in helping students understand the Geologic Time Scale? If you are a teacher, we would love to hear from you. Or, if you were taught the Geologic Time Scale, what method was used and did it help you learn?  Please share, comment, discuss.

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    Lisa Lundgren

    I tried to teach geologic time during a museum summer drop-in program. The age range varied from 4 year old to 5th graders. I tried the calendar way (e.g. the Paleozoic started on November 18th, the Mesozoic began on December 13th, etc.) with visitors using different colors to represent the different eras. Then, to reinforce the concept, we built lego structures depiciting stratigraphy, and tried to correspond the lego block colors to the eras the students had colored on the calendars. It was…mildy successful?

    The other activity I tried was creating snap bracelets. We gave visitors stickers and markers to draw the different eras on there. While it was a fun art project, I don’t think many grasped the concept that well. I’d love to re-do it sometime!

    @gsantos @ashley-hall, what have you tried when you teach geologic time?



    Weirdly enough, that is a subject I have not had much opportunity to teach on. One time when I was able to do something related to teaching geologic time, I used a long rope with knots tied at certain lengths to represent the different eras and major earth events. I had kid come up to represent the beginning and then I had each other kid start at the beginning and walk along the rope until they hit a knot. I would explain the event and they could visualize the length of time between events. I got the idea from another Australian geologist on Instagram, but I can’t remember their account. It was a few years ago I did this, but from what I remember, the kids got a kick out of seeing the length of time humans had only been around in comparison to the rest of time.

    In my limited experience, visualization has been the key. In the Alf museum tours, our docents have the time spiral in the front of the museum created by Raymond Alf. The time spiral is colored coded to show the different eras and has labels on major events as well. The very tip of the spiral shows the appearance of humans. It seems to do the job here.




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    Jeanette Pirlo

    Hey @alicia-foy @gail-alaimo @nina-corley @denise-porcello @scott-flamand @ginny-switt @gretchen-miller @tricialynn-glotfelty @mhendrickson @skillingsworth @maggie-paxson @tmorgan @vperez @rebecca-mussetter @tredina-sheppard

    have you taught the geologic time scale?  And if so, what type of activity did you use?  Did you find it effective?  After doing your activity, did you think of how you’d like to improve on your activity?


    Let us know!


    Ginny Switt

    I do this with third grade, so a much younger crowd.  I put sticky notes up down our hallway, from my classroom to our library (so winding through the school).  My white board is humans, and about halfway around my classroom is dinosaurs, right outside my room are the first shelled animals, first single celled animals, etc…then walking really, really far to get to the potential meteor crash 3 billion years ago, and finally the creation of Earth about 4.5 billion years ago when we reach the library.  They realize what a tiny part of geologic time contained humans.


    Hey–so we use FOSS and the activity we do with the kids is the same as the one Bruce did with us in Santa Cruz.  I also have a clock visual for the kids and a calendar comparison that they like.

    Denise Porcello

    There is an activity in the DIG BOX from the Burke Museum that teaches it using a football field. I haven’t tried it, but I think it’s a great idea.  There is also a video along the same lines…..

    Good Luck!

    Tynessa Morgan

    I built a scale using Legos a few years ago. If I can’t find it I can build a new one. Mega Blocks gave me a huge donation years ago so I am always trying to figure out ways to use them.

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