May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Google Earth Geology Field Trip

Posted: Friday, November 4th, 2011

Courtesy of the California Academy of Sciences

Grades: 2nd – 7th Grade
Subject: Earth Science
Topics: Geologic Processes, Natural Resources
Duration: 20 minutes prep + 45 minutes activity

Lesson Plan:

In this activity, students will learn about common rocks from California, including how they are formed and some of their uses in everyday life.

In this activity, students will:

  • learn about California geology.
  • learn about common rocks, including how they are formed and some of their uses in everyday life.



  • geology: the scientific study of the origin of the earth along with its rocks, minerals, land forms, and life forms, and of the processes that have affected them over the course of the earth’s history
  • sedimentary rock: rock that has formed through the deposition and solidification of sediment, especially sediment transported by water (rivers, lakes, and oceans), ice (glaciers), and wind
  • igneous rock: rock formed by the cooling and solidifying of molten materials
  • metamorphic rock: rock that was once one form of rock but has changed to another under the influence of heat, pressure, or some other agent without passing through a liquid phase
  • subduction: a geologic process in which one edge of one lithospheric plate is forced below the edge of another.



  • Print enough copies of the worksheet for each student to have one.
  • Print one copy of the worksheet (teacher version) and review it.
  • Download Google Earth for free:
  • Download and open the kmz file. Google Earth should automatically launch.
  • On the left-hand side of the window, under the “Temporary Places”, you will see California Geology Flight.
  • Practice using Google Earth so that you can run the tour with your students and help them with questions they might have.


  • Review the rock cycle with your students. There are three different types of rocks: sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous. Remind students how these different rock types are formed.
  • Pass around the rock samples (if you have them) and ask for student observations.
  • Ask students the following questions.
    • Which rock types would you expect to find on a field trip to the beach? (Mostly sedimentary rocks because sand builds up on the beach and over time can form sedimentary rocks.)
    • Which rock types would you expect to find near the volcanoes in the Sierra Nevada? (Mostly igneous rocks because they are formed when molten material from volcanoes cools and hardens.)
    • Where in California would you expect to see metamorphic rocks? (You can find metamorphic rocks anywhere where rock has been changed by heat and pressure. This could be near the coastline, where two plates once collided and now move in opposite directions along a series of faults including the San Andreas Fault. You could also find them in the mountains where mountain building could have caused serious heat and pressure.)


  • Tell students that they are going to go on a virtual geology field trip to see some places where they can find sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rocks in California.
  • Open the kmz file entitled “California Geology Flight.” This will open the Google Earth application.
  • Start by double clicking on “California.” This view will show a cluster of points in the Bay Area and a cluster in the Sierras. Explain to the students that your virtual field trip will involve looking at geology close to home and then further away in the Sierras.
  • Then, double click “Bay Area.” This will zoom into a view of only the Bay Area. Tell students that you will look at four different rocks in the Bay Area.
  • Explain that the Bay Area is located on a fault line and near the ocean.  Both of these geographic features greatly affect the types of rocks that are distributed around the Bay Area.
  • Start with the first rock, sandstone, and proceed to give your students a tour of the four Bay Area rocks.
  • To fly to each rock, double click on the Academy logo next to each rock type on the left panel.
  • Once you reach the location, you can click on the logo once more to bring up the balloon of photos and information. (Note that you can also click on the name of the rock type on the left –in blue. This will bring up the balloon of photos and information. A double click will fly you to the appropriate location.)
  • Read the balloon text out loud to your students and have a discussion about how each rock type was formed. (Use the information from the teacher worksheet to flesh out what is written in the balloons.)
  • For each rock location, you can pause to discuss relevant issues such as how the visible topography was formed, what rocks are used for in everyday life, how and why rocks are mined, and the environmental issues associated with mining.
  • At each location have students fill in the appropriate section on their worksheet.
  • After visiting the four Bay Area rocks, double click on “Sierra Nevada.” This will zoom into a view of the Mono Lake area of the Sierra Nevada. Tell students that you will now fly to the mountains and look at 5 rocks from this region.
  • Double click on “Mono Craters.” This will fly you in closer to a view of the volcanic landscape.
  • Discuss how the Sierras were formed: Today, California’s faults are mostly transform faults (where plates grind past one another), but there used to be a subduction zone off the coast of California. At subduction zones, oceanic crust is subducted beneath the continental crust. When oceanic crust subducts, it melts, causing large plumes of magma to rise. In California, these large plumes of magma resulted in mountain building and volcanoes. When the magma cooled, it formed the igneous granite that comprises the base of the Sierras. As volcanoes erupted, mountains formed, rivers were born, and other geologic processes occurred in this area. Many metamorphic, igneous, and sedimentary rocks formed.
  • Explore the five Sierra rocks as you did with the Bay Area rocks. Have the students continue to document what they are learning on their worksheets.


Discuss with the students:

  • What surprised you about your virtual field trip?
  • Why are there so many different types of rocks in California? (California is tectonically active and showcases a variety of different geologic processes including sedimentation, metamorphism, and volcanic eruptions.)
  • What questions do you have about California geology?

Relate your virtual field trip to the specific standards for your grade. The Google Earth tour can serve as a visual cue to remind students of many important geologic concepts.


With older students, spend time flying over California’s major geologic features. Have students take turns explaining some of the features that you can see.


  • United Stated Geological Survey, Menlo Park Campus, kindly supplied the rocks and many of the rock and location photos for this lesson.
  • Farndon, J. (2008). The illustrated encyclopedia of rocks of the world. London: Southwater.
  • Sloan, D. (2006). California natural history guides: Geology of the San Francisco Bay region. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Hill, M. (2006). California natural history guides: Geology of the Sierra Nevada. Berkeley: University of California Press.

California Content Standards

Grade Two

Earth Sciences

  • 3e. Students know rock, water, plants, and soil provide many resources, including food, fuel, and building materials, that humans use.

Grade Four

Earth Sciences

  • 5a. Students know some changes in the earth are due to slow processes, such as erosion,and some changes are due to rapid processes, such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.
  • 5c. Students know moving water erodes landforms, reshaping the land by taking it away from some places and depositing it as pebbles, sand, silt, and mud in other places (weathering, transport, and deposition).

Grade Six

Earth Sciences

  • 1f. Students know how to explain major features of California geology (including mountains, faults, volcanoes) in terms of plate tectonics.
  • 2a. Students know water running downhill is the dominant process in shaping the landscape, including California’s landscape.
  • 2b. Students know rivers and streams are dynamic systems that erode, transport sediment, change course, and flood their banks in natural and recurring patterns.
  • 2c. Students know beaches are dynamic systems in which the sand is supplied by rivers and moved along the coast by the action of waves.

Grade Seven

Earth Sciences

  • 4a. Students know Earth processes today are similar to those that occurred in the past and slow geologic processes have large cumulative effects over long periods of time.
  • 4c. Students know that the rock cycle includes the formation of new sediment and rocks and that rocks are often found in layers, with the oldest generally on the bottom.


Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2 Responses

  1. I was trying to use this as a supplement to my 7th grade Science classroom, but the advertisement pop-ups are so inappropriate. I tried to close them so that I could click on the links (in blue), but they do not go away. They keep popping up. What a waste of what could be a great learning experience for my students.

  2. Are the pop-ups on the Google Earth site or the from the California Academy of Sciences website?

Leave a Reply


Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.