September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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?

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. 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.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.