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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Iceland Volcano

From the blogs of this last 6 months it seems I have a fondness for earth science. That is a bit true but the current events in Iceland gave us all a teachable moment that was simply too good to pass up. Last month, drifting ash from the erupting Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland closed airports throughout Europe. The student’s first question was how to pronounce that name.  There are several sites that offer help there. Iceland ‘s embassy in Washington offers this: “AY-yah-fyah-lah-YOH-kuul.” I think I should offer extra credit for anyone who can pronounce that.

The language arts teacher may have a teachable moment in the pronunciation cues in the way we express proper pronunciation in print. The links to science for me were the connections to what exactly ash would do to an airplane engine (materials science0, how they track the ash cloud (meteorology and physics), and the predictions of possible future and continued eruptions (physics, probability and problem solving). Each of these are rivers of rich learning. The simple examination of volcanic ash is interesting with a magnifying lens and much more with a microscope. Several sites have photos you can take a look at in class.

It is good to compare this volcanic ash with microscopic views of other minerals. Several schools in Europe have begun exchanges with schools in the US and have exchanged mineral samples. If you have thought of doing that now would be a great time. There is a project/group that has collaborative projects going all the time. You may want to check them out.

The best way to begin would be a classroom jigsaw where groups of 2 or 3 students each explore some aspect of the eruption or compare news stories to build a comprehensive picture of this event. If you select to have different aspects covered I would suggest culture, history of previous eruptions, geology of Iceland, the statistics of this eruption, why they will not fly planes into ash clouds and future concerns. The Boston Globe has a great comprehensive story and some outstanding photos.

The New York Times covered lessons learned:

The geology was covered by the Daily Cougar:

You Tube loaded up some NASA satellite footage of the eruption:

It often amazes our students that other countries cover the news too. I suggest trying the BBC for a slightly different perspective: 

The Telegraph in the UK loaded up a video of a flyover of the volcano:

My classes will be chatting about the chemical composition of this ash and CO2 emissions. That works well in chemistry. If you are in life science the impact on solar radiation might be interesting. Having a cloud of ash in the air decreases the amount of solar radiation that can reach the earth. Will that impact plants, crops or temperatures?

This year has been a big one so far for earthquakes and volcanoes in the news. It is somewhat comforting for kids to understand how these happen and what we do in the US to minimize the damages. There is not much but building codes in the US help prevent catastrophic lasses like we saw in Haiti. Chile has been working on updating building codes and emergency procedures. One 5th grade class I regularly exchange e-mails with, is “adopting” several volcanoes. Groups of 5 students are banding together and “adopting” one volcano to monitor. The group who adopted Mt. Rainer is downloading information from the USGS site to place on the “update” board. The USGS actively monitors several volcanoes in the US.

Several volcanoes have web cams that can be checked on day or night. The kids loved these.

So, adopt a volcano or take a virtual trip to Iceland. This is the most interesting time for a volcano virtual road trip.

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