January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

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: http://earth.google.com/
  • 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.

Source: http://www.calacademy.org/teachers/resources/lessons/google-earth-geology-field-trip/.

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


Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Find Your Reason to Engage

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Jill Grace

I was recently reflecting on events in the news and remembered that several years ago, National Public Radio had a story about a man named Stéphane Hessel, a World War II French resistance fighter, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and contributor to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The story focused on a book he had published, Time for Outrage (2010).

In it, Hessel makes the argument that the worst attitude is indifference:

“Who is in charge; who are the decision makers? It’s not always easy to discern. We’re not dealing with a small elite anymore, whose actions we can clearly identify. We are dealing with a vast, interdependent world that is interconnected in unprecedented ways. But there are unbearable things all around us. You have to look for them; search carefully. Open your eyes and you will see. This is what I tell young people: If you spend a little time searching, you will find your reasons to engage. The worst attitude is indifference. ‘There’s nothing I can do; I get by’ – adopting this mindset will deprive you of one of the fundamental qualities of being human: outrage.  Our capacity for protest is indispensable, as is our freedom to engage.”

His words make me take pause when I think of the status of science in the United States. A general “mistrust” of science is increasingly pervasive, as outlined in a New Yorker article from the summer of 2016. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.