The Solution? Cool It.
Danny Stock
Little did we know that Middle School science labs would soon be springing up in our homes. Sure enough, though, as we suddenly shifted to a distance learning model—and at the encouragement of our innovative science teachers Stephen Harris and Ethan Burns—6th graders headed into the kitchen for geology labs. Using readily available household materials (or by participating virtually should materials be in short supply), students explored crystal development in igneous rock formations.

Field Trip
Ethan introduced igneous rock to students with their “second video field trip,” a first-person video explanation from his current quarantine location “high atop the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.” Unfortunately, igneous rocks don’t occur naturally in that area. Ever resourceful, Ethan visited a local cemetery where headstones are typically made from granite. With drawings, images, and narration, students learned from many of the same teaching tools used to in the they enjoyed a “field trip” to Tennessee.

Lab Work
With another video introduction, a recipe for the solution (sugar and water), the tools (tupperware, baking sheet), methods (cool one solution fast and one slow), and warnings (“This lab involves using a stove and very hot sugar so please work with an adult.”) students were asked to model the formation of igneous rock in their home kitchen. Violet ’26 wrote, “In this lab we modeled the cooling of molten rock lava to make igneous rock.” Henry W. ’26 added, “When you cool the sugar it could simulate the crystallization of lava and magma. We modeled the forming of crystals from lava and magma, except we used sugar and water.” Oliver M. ’26 explained, “The intrusive [rock] was represented by the insulated Tupperware, where the sugar-water cooled slowly inside, which represents the cooling of molten rock underground. The extrusive was represented by the open cookie sheet that was put in the refrigerator to represent the quick cooling of molten rock above ground.” “The sugar mixture that was put into the cake pan represents lava that would have erupted from a volcano and then dried outside in the air,” added Oliver W. ’26. “The sugar mixture that was put in the Tupperware represents magma that would create batholiths that would be insulated by the earth or in the case of the lab, the Tupperware.”

Crystallizing Understanding
Through the multiple learning activities, from video explanations to experiential lab (and written reflection), students were able to solidify—dare we say crystallize?—their understanding of igneous rock formation. Reflecting on the lab activity, Henry F. ’26 said, “The intrusive sugar/rock developed larger more coarse crystals, while the extrusive sugar/rock developed smaller finer crystals. Also just like igneous rocks the lab rocked and was really fun (also delicious) to complete!”

  • Learn Actively
  • Middle School
  • STEM