Investigation Sequence


Earth Materials

Written by:

Jill Lass and Lori Boston                 Date


Focus Questions

How do people use earth materials?


Content: Earth, Physical, & Life

Earth materials provide many of the resources that humans use.

Cross cutting concepts


Science Practice


Personal, Social, Technology, Nature of Science, History

Earth materials provide many of the resources that humans use.

Background information

People depend in earth materials for the constructions we take for granted in the human built environment. We use these materials in bricks and concrete blocks that form walls, glass in the windows we look through, the surfaces of our roads, and sandpaper are a few of the uses we find using the earth materials. Minerals can be used as semi-precious stones, like gems and industrial diamonds in the stores and ore can be used in making of different metals. A quarry is a place where sand, rocks, clay and gravel are excavated and sorted. Another name for a quarry is a sand or gravel pit. Sand matrix is the binder that holds the sand together to make sculptures durable.

Activity Sequence

1) Look at sandpaper
2) Make sand sculptures
3) Make and paint beads
4) Rocks in use
5) Making bricks
6) Making sand paintings
7) Add color to sand, gravel, and pebbles to put in jar to make interesting designs.

Activity Descriptions

Activity 1- Looking at sandpaper
Materials- Fine sandpaper (#150), medium sandpaper (#80), fine sandpaper (#50), pencils or crayons, half sheets of white paper, hand lenses, paper plates, student sheets called sandpaper texture words, vial (for sand), sand, and Ziploc bags
1) Ask the students if they know of any examples of how people use sand. Review sand (pebbles, gravel, sand, silt, and clay) allow the students to look at the sand with hand lens.
2) Tell them that they will look at one use of sand today: (sandpaper)
3) Pass out sandpaper, and have the students rub their fingers their fingers gently over the paper.
4) Use the magnifiers to get a close view of the paper, different sizes and grits.
5) Introduce the vocabulary. (The papers have three different textures, course, medium, and fine.)
6) Have the students make sandpaper rubbings. Give each student a piece of white paper and a pencil or a crayon. Rub the pencil or crayon on the white paper in top of the sandpaper.
7) Ask the students how they would label the rubbings. Then have them label them.
8) Have the students identify the different textures of the sandpaper with their eyes closed, and have them use their new vocabulary words to describe the sandpaper.
9) Have the students gently rub two pieces of sandpaper together to see what comes off.
10) Catch the sand on a piece of paper and have them look at it with a magnifying glass
11) Ask the students to describe what they see, they can share and compare results with other students.
12) Ask how important is sandpaper? How is sandpaper used?
13) Is there any other uses?

Activity 2- Sand Sculptures
Materials- paper plates, basins, vials, metal spoons, whisk broom and dustpan, clean sand (7 lbs.), batch of sand matrix, cornstarch, water, container for storing sand matrix, newspapers, and white glue
Prepare Sand Matrix- 1 box (3.5 cups) of cornstarch, 3.5 cups of water
Mix cornstarch and water together in saucepan. Stir constantly over low heat. Keep stirring until about three-quarters of the matrix have thickened like mashed potatoes- consistency. The rest will be soupy. Remove from heat and cool. Store in covered container, Ziploc bag or jar. If mixture gets too thick, add a little water and stir. Keep mixture refrigerated, when not in use.
1) Review the properties of sand with the students.
2) Ask the students what is sand made of? Listen to responses.
3) Ask them if sand is smaller or larger than gravel? Listen to responses.
4) Ask the students how sand is like clay and how is it different?
5) Introduce sand matrix. Tell them that a matrix is a material that holds particles or materials together and how you made it (ingredients).
6) Distribute sand and matrix. Give each student a paper plate (write names on them) and have the students get 2 full vials of sand and put on paper plate.
7) Add 1 heaping spoonful of matrix on top of the sand on each plate.
8) Have the students use their hands to mix the sand and the matrix thoroughly.
9) Mold sand mixture. Have the students mold simple shapes or designs.
10) Ask the students to explain why they think their sculptures will stay together, and which ingredient(s) do they think will make them stay together.
11) Clean up and allow sculptures to dry. Allow 2 days to dry.
12) Ask students if they know of any other people who might use the matrix and what they might use it for?

Activity 3- Clay Beads
Materials for each student- 1 ball of clay (1"diameter), 1 piece of scrap paper, 1 piece of yarn (24"), 1 piece of soda straw
Materials for the class- plastic cups, painting supplies, brushes, felt markers, poster paints, tempera paints, piece of string, paper towels, newspapers, sponges, and water
1) Ask the students what are the 2 properties of clay a) it sticks together when it is molded b) it hardens when dried.
2) Explain that they will use these properties if clay to make something to hang around their necks on pieces of yarn.
3) Discuss with the students some techniques a) if clay starts to dry out or cracks, dip fingers in water and smooth out the cracks b) they can use a pencil or straw to make designs in the clay.
4) Give the students one chunk of clay and have them start project. Form round balls and have students poke a short piece of straw through the clay, leave it there and remove it when the clay has dried.
5) Students use sponges and paper towels to clean up the area.
6) Ask the students if they know what makes the clay stick together.
7) Allow two days for the clay to dry. When dry have students paint the beads and dry them overnight. If you want paint the beads with a clear acrylic. The students then string beads on yarn to make necklace.
8) Ask the students what are some other uses for clay (making bowls, pottery, sculptures, artists)

Activity 4- Rocks in use
Materials- Each student needs 1 notebook or clipboard with paper, and 1 pencil.
1) Ask the students to tell you about the different sizes of rocks they have learned about (pebbles, gravel, sand, silt, and clay) and write these categories on the board.
2) Tell the students the class will be going outside to look for the materials.
3) Divide the class into groups and have them write and observe the sizes of rocks that they see.
4) Ask students why they think certain materials are used for certain purposes.
5) Back in the classroom, ask the students where they found each of the materials. Make a chart where the materials are found.
6) Ask the students how else the materials could be used and where else you might be able to find them.

Activity 5-Making bricks
Materials- For each student- 1 aluminum mini-loaf pan, clay soil, about _ liter, 1 handful dried grass, straw, or weed clippings, 1 half sheet of scrap paper, 1 pencil. For class 2 basins, 2 plastic cups, 2 metal spoons, 1 brick, 1 plastic grocery bag or bucket, 1 garden trowel or shovel, petroleum jelly (optional), 1 pitcher or 2 liter soda bottle, water
1) Ask the students if they know of a use of clay soil (make bricks). Show students a manufactured brick if available and tell them they are going to make their own brick.
2) Show the students the clay and allow them to rub it with wet hands. Tell them the soil has a lot of clay in it and ask them why it needs to have lots of clay. This is because bricks need to be hard when it is dry.
3) Students need to put two cups of soil in tub and add water while they are mixing mixture with their hands breaking up lumps and taking out the rocks.
4) Ask the students what do they think they can add to their mixture to make it hold together more. When it is sticky and too thick to pour the students add a handful of grass.
5) To mold the bricks students should fill the pans two- thirds full and press the mud into the pan making sure it is smooth and uniform.
6) Place bricks to a drying location for a day
7) Students clean up basins and wash hands. Place any extra soil mixture in garden area.
8) The next day test one brick and if you think they are dry enough to take out of mold allow students to do so.
9) Ask the students how long they think the bricks will need to dry before they are usable. (Allow bricks to dry for a week)
10) Ask the students to give examples of how bricks are used in their community.
11) Have students write their names on flat side and build their own wall or other construction.
12) Ask the students what is the difference between adobe bricks and fired bricks.
13) Explain to them the differences if they don’t know.

Activity 6- making sand paintings
Materials- basin, sand, black construction paper, glue
1) Ask the students if they have ever seen a sand painting.
2) Discuss with the students about southwest Indians using sand paintings (background information)
3) Fill basin with sand
4) Students draw a picture on construction paper and cover the parts they want sand on with glue.
5) Turn paper over in the sand and shake off excess sand.
6) Students may add gravel or pebbles.
7) Have the students display and explain their sand paintings with the whole class.

Activity 7- Quarry in a jar
Materials- sand, gravel, pebbles, jar with lid, pencil, and paper
1) Ask the students if they know what a quarry is.
2) Before leaving for field trip write a class KWL chart to find out what they want to learn about at the quarry.
3) Go to a quarry on a field trip learn how rocks are made, dug up, sorted, and the uses of the different rocks that are dug up. Also have students look at the layers of rock that have been dug up.
4) In the classroom ask students to explain what the rocks looked like and if they remember how they were dug up and separated (different colors, texture and wetness).
5) Have them draw and label the rocks in layers that they saw at the quarry.
6) Students place layers of rocks in jars the way that they were in the quarry before they were separated.
7) After students make layers place lid on jars. Have them label the types of rocks.
8) Ask the students what kinds of rocks they put in their jars and what those rocks might be used for.
9) Ask students if they know of any other kinds of quarries there are for different types of rocks? (Granite for monuments and buildings, diamonds for jewelry, lava and other landscaping rocks).

Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes