With Kilauea erupting, my owlet and I decided it’s the perfect time for some engaging and fun volcano activities appropriate for middle and high school age students! Our list goes beyond the baking soda volcano (although there’s nothing wrong with that!), but doesn’t require an entire semester of work. Pick and choose — any of these activities will stand alone or can be included in your Earth Science studies.
Keep up with Kilauea
The USGS has extensive information on Kilauea’s ongoing eruption, including videos and articles.
CNN also has an article about the blue flames recently observed at Kilauea. Check the site for more articles as the eruption continues. This is a great opportunity to read and discuss current events with your kids.
Screen Some Excellent Documentaries
On Netflix: Into the Inferno by Werner Herzog
This is not your typical volcano documentary. It’s fantastically wide-ranging and includes human geography, earth science, anthropology, and archaeology, in addition to the obvious volcanology. So much good stuff about various world cultures around different volcanoes. About 20 minutes from the end or so is a bit featuring interviews and footage of one of the Pacific Island John Frum cargo cults, which we recently read about in a novel that the owlet and his friends were reading for their book group! I just love homeschool serendipity, don’t you?
From National Geographic, Volcano: Nature’s Inferno
Featuring iconic volcanologists Maurice and Katia Krafft, this DVD is great for middle school science. I haven’t found it streaming anywhere, but if your library doesn’t have it, you can order it from the National Geographic store. The Kraffts were pioneers in filming volcano eruptions. After filming this documentary, they were eventually killed in a pyroclastic flow in 1991; Werner Herzog paid tribute to them in Into the Inferno, which makes another great connection for your students if you decide to watch both of these.
Extend the learning and incorporate some language arts into your volcano studies by having everyone write their own version of a volcano eyewitness story.
On Netflix, if you want more to watch:
BBC Earth: South Pacific. In particular, look at episode 4, “Ocean of Volcanoes,”and witness the birth, growth, and death of an island.
BBC The Great Rift: Africa’s Wild Heart. In particular, episode 1, “Fire,” which features the Great Rift Valley’s stunning string of volcanoes, crowned with clouds, stretching from Ethiopia to Tanzania.
Volcanoes in the Movies
Wired.com has a great article called “Your Guide to Volcano Movies,” which not only lists movies that feature volcanoes, but also rates them on premise, science, effects, acting, and thrills.
The USGS has a PDF FAQ page with all kinds of interesting volcano questions to explore. Scroll to the bottom of page 1 of and find a category for volcanoes in movies — what’s true, what’s not. And if your students are like mine, they’ll be absorbed with this document for some time.
More Volcano FAQ
The USGS also has an interactive Natural Hazards FAQ page where you can select volcano categories from the list and explore topics such as which eruption was deadliest, which was largest in 20th century, where the US ranks in number of volcanoes in the world, and lots more. (But for volcanoes in the movies, you’ll have to use the USGS PDF linked above.)
Visit Volcanoes National Park
Plan a Volcano Sight-Seeing Trip
The Hawaii Tourism Authority has a website where intrepid aficionados can get tips and information on visiting Hawaiian volcanoes. Challenge your student to plan a vacation of volcano tourism, or write postcards to friends and family from a volcano vacation!
Plot Volcanoes on a Map
This activity includes cross-curricular learning, and you wind up with a cool map to hang or put in your notebook.
The more challenging option incorporates independent research. Print a world map with latitude and longitude marked. NOVA has one and Oregon State University has a list of all active volcanoes with latitude and longitude coordinates, or your student can research this independently. Add challenge questions if you like, such as asking your student to find an underwater volcano, the largest volcano, the most active, the one nearest the greatest population, etc. Plot as many as you like on your map.
A simpler option is to use this free all-in-one download from 3D Geography, which has the map and 18 volcanoes’ coordinates ready to be plotted. Also available from 3D Geography: volcano word searches, crosswords, diagrams, and more.
After the volcanoes have been plotted, you can ask your student if it’s likely that a volcano could pop up in your back yard, and further explore the Ring of Fire and tectonic plates.
If your student wants details and photos of each currently active volcano, visit the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program website.
Speaking of maps, the beautiful and jam-packed Smithsonian Dynamic Planet map is available for purchase or FREE PDF download (front and back) on the USGS store website. It is quite large with lots of type, so you may need to view it on your largest screen for best results.
Can We Predict Volcanic Eruptions? Experiment with Party Poppers!
This one is really cool. But you need some equipment to do it, so take a look and see what you’ve got that you might adapt for the purpose. This is free lesson plan you can download from tes.com, but you will need to register as a user, which is also free. Performing the experiment does not take as much time as preparing the materials, but the fun factor is well worth it!
Create a Model of an Exploding Underwater Volcano in a Cup!
This very cool experiment from Steve Spangler was a new one for us! As with all his experiments, it includes an excellent explanation of what’s happening and, in this case, how it relates to a volcano. There’s also a video if you’d like to watch him do the experiment.
Volcano Eruptions with Soft Drinks
While you’re at Steve Spangler’s website, take a look at this experiment. Your kids will love making a mess (exploding soda out of a bottle), and they can learn about how the gas in soda is like the gas in a volcano from Steve’s succinct, informative explanation. (And if you don’t happen to have the wax on hand for the underwater volcano, maybe this soda volcano will tide them over until you get some wax.)
Chocolate Lava Cake
This is one project you will definitely want to do. It is really easy, and it is chocolate. Need I say more? Food Network offers Ree Drummond’s recipe and video for Chocolate Lava Cake from her show, The Pioneer Woman. Yum.
Explore Emergency Preparedness Plans
Ok, so this may not be as fun as the party popper experiment. But it is thought-provoking, and makes an interesting extension of volcano learning that directly ties in to the current events with Kilauea. You may not live where people have a volcano eruption plan, but maybe you have a tornado plan. Or an earthquake plan. Or even a flood plan. Where would you expect volcano drills to be necessary? Challenge your student to figure out what kinds of emergency preparedness plans are needed for people in different parts of our nation, and what those plans might be. Research may even include Skyping with students from other regions to ask what their emergency drills are like.
Read about the Volcano SWAT Team of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program, which the US deploys to assist governments of other nations in volcano emergencies. Learn what Ready.gov says you need to do if you’re near an active volcano.
And Finally, the Tried and True Baking Soda Volcano
We’ve done a bajillion baking-soda-and-vinegar-volcano variations over the years, and I imagine you have, too. And if you haven’t, now’s a great time to do one! Super easy. Google is your friend here, but let me tell you that you don’t even need to get that fancy. Your kid can make a cone (wet sand, papier-mâché, clay, what-have-you) to go around an empty water bottle. The bottle will contain your reaction, and the cone can be colored to look like a volcano. (Or skip the cone and just do the explosion if that’s more your speed.) Put the bottle on a tray to catch the overflow. Or in the tub. Put some vinegar down in the bottle, and then pour in a slurry you’ve made of baking soda+water, and step back a little! If you want to get fancy, add some food coloring (red or orange) and some dish soap to the vinegar. If you want the explosion to be delayed, don’t make a slurry of baking soda and water, but instead, put dry baking soda onto a square of thin tissue, wrap it to close it, and then put that down in the vinegar. Honestly, the kids are all about the explosion, so just give them a whole bunch of baking soda and vinegar and send them outside to the driveway for a while. (You don’t want the vinegar on your yard.)
And that’s our list of projects!
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