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


CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. 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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.