Learn About Volcanoes

Commemorate the anniversary of the Mount Saint Helens eruption on May 18.

  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Create an Explosion
Students never tire of this classic experiment, which illustrates chemical reactions. Paste the bottom of a paper cup to a large, flat piece of cardboard. As a class, make a papier-mâché or clay mountain around the cup, leaving an opening in the top. Pour two tablespoons of water into the cup, and mix in one tablespoon of baking soda. To make your volcano bubble over with lava, quickly pour two tablespoons of vinegar into the baking soda mixture.

Study Volcanic History

Volcanic eruptions have altered the world for centuries. Invite small groups to research one volcanic topic each (such as Pompeii, Mount Saint Helens, lunar volcanoes, Hawaiian volcanoes, or shield volcanoes). After the groups have completed their research, ask them to prepare a brief presentation as well as five trivia questions that will be answered in their presentation. Give groups a chance to present, and then pit them against each other in a friendly game of trivia.

Watch the Footage
Several documentaries tell the story of the Mount Saint Helens eruption. As a class, watch "Message from the Mountain" by the USDA Forest Service, with the U.S. Geological Survey, or "The Fire Below Us," available from the Northwest Interpretive Association in Castle Rock, Washington. Or take ad-vantage of some of the many resources available on WatchKnow.org or YouTube , including the explosion itself, narratives, songs and tributes (such as a tribute to Harry Truman, who refused to evacuate). After you watch, ask students to discuss their reactions: What was most surprising aspect of the eruption? Why did some people choose not to evacuate? Would you have evacuated?

Spread the News
In 1980, most people found out about the eruption from their local newspaper or the nightly news. Talk with students about the other options we now have for learning about current events, such as online news sites, cable news stations, and social media such as Twitter and Facebook-and ask students what they think are the advantages and disadvantages of each of these news sources. Discuss the components of a news report (who, what, when, where, why), and ask students to write their own newspaper article or stage a broadcast reporting on the news of May 18, 1980.

Track a Volcanic Career
If students enjoy learning about volcanoes now, they might want to consider volcanology, the study of active volcanoes. Have students create a career chart for a volcanologist, divided into the following sections: High School, College, Graduate Study, On the Job. Ask small groups to find the information that best fits into each section of the chart, such as courses to take in high school, ideal college majors, and possible tasks included in a volcanologist's job.

Prepare for a Crisis
Imagine your school is located at the foot of a volcano that hasn't erupted in hundreds of years, until last week, when a few steam explosions caught everyone's attention. In your classroom, create a makeshift volcano shelter and ask students to brainstorm what items are needed to stock the shelter. Invite another class to come to your "safe room" while your students educate them on the pros and cons of evacuation.

  • Part of Collection:
  • Subjects:
    Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Volcanoes
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