History of the Earth
Lesson Objective: Identify and place periods of geologic time on a life-size timeline
Grade 7 / Science / Hands-on Lesson

Thought starters

  1. How effective is Mr. Inman's outdoor "Time Machine?
  2. " What 'big ideas' does Mr. Inman really want students to remember and experience?
  3. How does creating the timeline on two different scales help students better understand the geologic divisions of time?
34 Comments
I thought this video was great! I love this teacher's passion and desire to create an engaging and meaningful lesson for his students. This inspired me to challenge myself to do the same!
Recommended (2)
This was a wonderful inspirational moment in teaching! You could see the developement of the concept through the well thought out lessons. I enjoyed seeing the kids engaging in such a difficult dry topic and Mr. Inman bringing the concept to their (the students) understanding level. I've done a similar lesson with the solar system, and the distance of the planets. In NYC where I teach at the American Museum of Natural History Rose Center Planetarium we have this time line in what is called the Heilbrunn time line. It starts of from the Big Bang to modern day, and spirals with information about various key events that occured and different benchmarks of geological time. Kudos to Mr. Inman for "Teaching the Tough to Teach" material
Recommended (3)
@Andrea - I may be misunderstanding, but do you teach at the Museum? I found this link to the timeline http://www.amnh.org/rose/cosmic-moreinfo.html - looks very cool! Do you know of any resources that might help a teacher recreate the timeline? I could imagine recreating the timeline at school with my students and inviting other classes to come take a tour.
Recommended (0)
Was very impressed with Mr. Inman's commitment to keeping every topic engaging and approachable to young scientists. As a 7th grade science teacher, I understand the challenge of tackeling tough vocabulary and also providing an engaging environment for students to gain an understanding of concepts that are truly difficult to grasp and relate to. A great demonstration of how to engage whole class then also have an opportunity to work individually with students on their own scale models. There is a similar activity with students "walking" through the layers of the Earth originally written by a stellar teacher at the Exploratorium: http://www.mysciencebox.org/book/export/html/557 ...really fun, really engaging.
Recommended (4)
Very creative teaching. His methods for building interaction and engagement with the material through the activities, and especially how he encourages collaboration between students and student teams, is inspiring. I wish he could be given an iPad or laptop for each student to see how he would design the lesson then.
Recommended (2)

Transcripts

  • Transcript for Tough to Teach Science Class – History of the Earth

    NOTE: 01:13:56 begins with the With thanks, however the With

    Transcript for Tough to Teach Science Class – History of the Earth

    NOTE: 01:13:56 begins with the With thanks, however the With thanks contains the name of Jeremy Howard, not Alastair Inman.
    01:00:00 Students [MUSIC]
    01:00:06 Students
    Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    I guess when you’ve got something that’s tough to teach, you got to step back and ask yourself twenty years from now what do you want them to actually get out of this. You may find it’s not the details of the subject itself, but something that they can learn in learning that subject. If I was a 12 or 13 year old, what would I want to do?
    01:00:23 TOUGH TO TEACH
    SCIENCE CLASS
    History of the Earth [MUSIC]
    01:00:29 School exterior [MUSIC]
    01:00:31 Students ALASTAIR:
    I truly believe that kids like science. They like investigating. They like experimenting.
    01:00:36 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    The reason it’s tough to teach is because it’s pretty dry.
    01:00:40 ALASTAIR INMAN
    Science Teacher [MUSIC]
    01:00:42 History of the Earth lesson
    Part 1 of 3 ALASTAIR:
    Okay, so yesterday I know you probably thought I was a little bit cruel. I gave you I think...
    01:00:46 Alastair Inman ALASTAIR:
    Wasn’t that the longest section you’ve ever had to read out of the textbook?
    STUDENTS:
    Yes.
    ALASTAIR:
    How many pages was it?
    01:00:50 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    There’s too much vocabulary.
    01:00:51 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    Twelve pages.
    STUDENT:
    Like 12?
    ALASTAIR:
    All about geologic time scale and the history of the earth. There’s just too much of, of kind of the dry side of science without getting hands on being able to do the experiment. Do you remember how old is the earth?
    01:01:05 The Geologic Time Scale
    A history of the Earth ALASTAIR:
    The history of the earth we have to learn in California. It’s part of the content standards.
    01:01:08 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    All seventh grade students will learn about the history of the earth.
    01:01:11 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    Did you get that out of the reading? What do you think? Kevin.
    KEVIN:
    [inaudible]
    ALASTAIR:
    Six-point-four billion? Is he right?
    STUDENTS:
    Yes.
    ALASTAIR:
    Switch them around.
    STUDENT:
    Four-point...
    ALASTAIR:
    It’s 4.6 billion. Very close, okay.
    01:01:24 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    That to me was a challenging thing that I had to teach because I know you read about the history of the earth in the textbook. It’s a long section. My kids can read through it and they can come out at the end of it, in my opinion, really not getting any grasp of what it really is all about.
    01:01:37 Alastair Inman
    Students
    How old is the Earth?
    4.6 billion years!
    4,600,00,000 ALASTAIR:
    Four-point-six billion years. That is very old. And such a long period of time, to talk about it in years is kind of difficult. So one of the things you read about yesterday is that a different way of looking at earth’s history, which is four-comma-six-zero-zero-comma-zero-zero-zero-comma-zero-zero-zero. That is a very old earth. We got to take that and we’re going to break it up into eras.
    01:01:59 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    It’s just a lot of new words, a lot of big world. Paleozoic, Mesozoic. Things which will go in one ear and right out the other.
    01:02:05 Students
    Alastair Inman ALASTAIR:
    Can anybody remember what’s the name of the oldest era, the one the furthest back? Yeah.
    STUDENT:
    Preambrian [PH]?
    ALASTAIR:
    Very close. It’s called the Precambrian.
    STUDENT:
    Oh, the Precambrian.
    01:02:16 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    So one of the things I love about being a science teacher is trying to think how can I take that science and make it so that the kids can do something? For me that’s a great challenge.
    01:02:25 Students
    Alastair Inman ALASTAIR:
    Can anybody remember the names of any of the other eras? They also end with an -oic, -zoic. What you got?
    STUDENT:
    [INAUDIBLE]
    ALASTAIR:
    Very close. The Paleozoic. And that was the one that came after the Precambrian. Because what we’re really looking at is actually kind of interesting.
    01:02:39 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    Looking back at the history of the earth and the huge lengths of time and how long it took for certain things to occur and how long it took for certain things to evolve.
    01:02:46 Shots of classroom [NO AUDIO]
    01:02:49 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    So what I want to do today is give you a better idea of the scale of earth’s history by making a scale timeline. Here is an example. If this line represents your entire kindergarten through 12th grade school career, where do you think you’d be on this line right now? Who thinks they can come up here and point on this and show me where you think you’d be? Jonathan, you want to do it? Come on up and show me where you think we’d be on this timeline.
    01:03:19 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    Thing I like most about teaching really has to be working with the kids. And then just hold your finger right there.
    01:03:24 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    There’s an energy to a junior high school student that is both a wonderful thing and a, and the thing that will drive you crazy. They have a huge amount of energy.
    01:03:32 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    Okay, you guys take a look. Talk to your table partner. Do you think he’s right? Do you think he needs to move to the left or do you think he needs to move to the right? You guys talk to your table partner and decide. So, Jonathan, you’re going to get some help on this. And I like that energy.
    01:03:45 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    Um, I like trying to control that energy and, and challenge it to do good things.
    01:03:49 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    Okay. If you think he needs to move to the left, raise your hand. If you think he needs to move to the right, raise your hand. If you think he’s perfect as he is, raise your hand.
    01:04:01 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    I’m the kind of guy that likes to do hands on science, active science, doing experiments.
    01:04:05 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    How many people think he needs to move to the left? How many think he needs to move to the right? Ooh, I think they think you went a little too far, Jonathan. We can’t really do any experiments on the history of the earth.
    01:04:16 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    We don’t have the, the technology. It’s not the sort of thing that can be done at the junior high school level.
    01:04:21 Students
    Alastair Inman ALASTAIR:
    Okay, now hold your finger right there. Ooh, nicely done, Jonathan. You are right there. So the reason it’s tough to teach for me is I had to come up with some way to make it more hands on.
    01:04:32 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    Not necessarily experimental in the sense of a true science experiment. But more hands on and more engaging, more active, given that it’s the history of the earth.
    01:04:40 Students
    Alastair Inman ALASTAIR:
    So here’s what’s going to happen. I got a rope over here, which I’ve measured out as 46 meters long.
    01:04:49 Shots of sidewalk
    Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    And wouldn’t you know it. On the, the one day in California it decides to rain over the last few weeks is the one day that I have an activity planned for outside. I guess my technique was to try to take what we were going to do outside, move it inside.
    01:05:00 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    What we would’ve done is put this stake in the grass and then backed up along the grass. What’s the problem?
    STUDENTS:
    Raining.
    ALASTAIR:
    It’s raining. So we’ve had to kind of improvise. We’re going to go to one of the covered hallways and we’re going to work in the covered hallway so you won’t get wet.
    01:05:14 Students
    Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    Then as quickly as possible, we move outside and we create a timeline where we’ve got a hundred million years is represented by one meter.
    01:05:20 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    We’re going to go back in history. Every one meter is how long?
    STUDENTS:
    A hundred million years.
    ALASTAIR:
    Hundred million years. So, look. On the rope we’ve got a little black mark and that represents one meter. So we’re a hundred million years. So you guys are going to come with me as we go backward in time. Two hundred, 300, 400, 500. We’re going back in time. One end is today and the other end is the beginning of the earth. This is a time machine. And, oh, wait a minute. What’s that? That’s a piece of pink tape that represents we’ve had ten meters.
    01:05:53 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    How far back in time are we?
    STUDENTS:
    [INAUDIBLE]
    ALASTAIR:
    We’re a thousand million. We are one billion years back in time. Let’s keep going. We go back to the beginning of the earth. You guys have to let me know if I’m going to trip over something. I guess if I had, was going to say I have a classroom motto, I’m going to steal something right from Bill Nye. Science rules. As a science teacher, I really do feel kind of lucky that I get to teach science. The kids love it. They’re having fun. And if the kids aren’t engaged, if the kids aren’t having fun, are they really doing science?
    01:06:22 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    So science rules works for me.
    01:06:24 Students ALASTAIR:
    How far do we have to go?
    STUDENTS:
    Forty-six. Four-point-six.
    ALASTAIR:
    Four-point-six billion.
    01:06:28 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    And that really requires you to make sure that what you’re doing is something the kids want to do.
    01:06:33 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    Four-point one, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 4.6. We just made it.
    01:06:47 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    Then I asked the kids to try to find certain events on that timeline.
    01:06:50 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    So what happened right here?
    STUDENTS:
    Earth was created. [INAUDIBLE], yeah.
    ALASTAIR:
    Earth was created. Do we have a sign? Okay, I need a bottle of sand. So put it right here. The earth was created here. Now the next sign that I want us to put is “Precambrian begins.” So I want you and your table partner to see if you guys can figure out where in earth’s history did the Precambrian begin. So you and your table partner go and stand wherever you think the Precambrian began. Go ahead.
    01:07:19 Students
    Alastair Inman ALASTAIR:
    And that’s where I get the kind of the, the ah moment, the whoa. They didn’t know that. Okay, this was a trick question. Because these guys have the answer. Precambrian was the first one. So the Precambrian begins right here. So that’s when the Precambrian began.
    01:07:36 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    When they read the textbook, a lot of things kind of get crammed in together and they get no sense of some of the great times, the great distances between things that actually took place.
    01:07:45 Students
    Alastair Inman ALASTAIR:
    Now we got to go through the other three eras and sort of set up our timeline. Then we’re going to put some events on [there?]. What was the name of the next era?
    STUDENT:
    Paleo...
    ALASTAIR:
    Paleo-. Oh, you got the cue card. Very nice. Paleozoic. Can you remember where the Paleozoic began? Just walk as far up the timeline as you think until the Precambrian ends and the Paleozoic begins. Go. So by setting up a timeline like that where I can have them actively moving back and forth to where they think certain things happened give them bit of a shock. Oh, we didn’t get cells until here.
    01:08:15 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    Oh, dinosaurs are way up there. That’s the reason I wanted to teach it that way.
    01:08:19 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    So there we go. Look at our timeline. There’s the beginning of the earth way down there. All of that’s Precambrian up to that sign. There’s the Paleozoic. There’s the Mesozoic. There’s the Cenozoic. Does the picture in your textbook make it look like that?
    STUDENTS:
    No.
    ALASTAIR:
    No. They focused only on here. Why do you think they focused on this part?
    STUDENT:
    [INAUDIBLE]
    STUDENT 2:
    Oh.
    ALASTAIR:
    Yeah.
    STUDENT 2:
    Um, it was more divided into periods?
    ALASTAIR:
    Say it loud so everybody can hear it. Did you hear this?
    STUDENT 2:
    It was divided into more periods.
    01:08:41 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    It was divided into more periods. But remember we made up the periods. Why did we set this part up into more periods and why did the textbook focus on this part?
    STUDENT 2:
    Because there was more life?
    ALASTAIR:
    There was more life, more interesting life.
    01:08:52 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    Then we, I have the kids come back in. And on an, on the second lesson I have them creating a timeline on adding machine paper.
    01:09:00 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    So here’s what we’re going to do today. We made a big timeline in our last class. In this class you guys are going to be making your own timeline.
    01:09:08 History of the Earth lesson
    Part 2 of 3 ALASTAIR:
    So today you’re going to create a scale timeline of earth’s history on a long sheet of adding machine paper.
    01:09:13 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    It’s a very different scale. Instead of being 46 meters, it’s 46 inches.
    01:09:17 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    Now if one inch on your timeline is 100 million years, how long will the timeline need to be? Talk to your table partner. Do the math. Figure it out. How long is this going to need to be?
    STUDENT:
    [INAUDIBLE]
    ALASTAIR:
    I’m hearing the right answer already. How long is it going to need to be?
    STUDENT:
    Forty-six inches.
    ALASTAIR:
    Forty-six inches. Because the earth is 4.6 billion years old. So you do the math. If it’s a hundred million years per one inch, it’s got to be 46 inches long. And the idea of the second timeline is that they’re then researching events on their own. Okay, now the events in number six, they’re all in your textbook.
    01:09:53 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    So they’re using their textbook.
    01:09:55 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    Things like when did the oldest fossil appear, when did homo sapiens appear, and so on. These challenge events are not in your textbook. That’s why what I’ve got for you guys, we’ve got computers. You can look on the web. And I’ve also got copies from two other textbooks, the parts where they talk about the earth’s timeline. They’re using the internet.
    01:10:12 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    They’re using any resources they want to try to find out when did certain events occur and then put them at the right place on their paper timeline.
    01:10:20 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    So you guys can use any of these resources to try to find out things like when did the first trilobite appear? When did the first mammal appear?
    01:10:27 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    One of the things I like about that activity, I realize that 20 years from now they’re not going to remember when the Paleozoic is. And that’s not what I’m trying to get at. I want them to be doing some processing.
    01:10:36 Students ALASTAIR:
    I want them to be doing some research. I want them to be doing a little bit of math to figure out how far back things have to go, to be doing some measuring. And also they’re always doing this with a partner. So they’re working together.
    01:10:48 Students STUDENTS:
    [OVERLAP]
    01:10:53 Students
    Alastair Inman STUDENT:
    The dinosaurs become extinct, right? Because there’s not enough room on the timeline.
    ALASTAIR:
    There’s not enough room on your timeline?
    STUDENT:
    Because there’s only 46 inches, right?
    STUDENT 2:
    Sixty-five million is 6.5 inches, isn’t it?
    STUDENT:
    Oh.
    ALASTAIR:
    Is it?
    01:11:05 Students
    Alastair Inman ALASTAIR:
    They set up the paper timeline and that’s the product that they’re producing. We’re using the inch side today. Part of the challenge for them when they’re making their paper timeline is to grasp billions versus hundreds of millions.
    01:11:16 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    And to make that jump that, oh, a billion is a thousand million.
    01:11:20 Alastair Inman ALASTAIR:
    First thing you do is set up the scale.
    01:11:23 Students STUDENTS:
    [OVERLAP]
    01:11:26 Alastair Inman
    Student ALASTAIR:
    Four-point-six billion years ago. Do you know how many millions there are in a billion?
    STUDENT:
    A hundred? Oh.
    ALASTAIR:
    And some of them will get it wrong the first time.
    01:11:36 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    For me, I don’t want it to be about don’t show anybody your answers. Don’t let anybody else know. You got to keep it all to yourself. No cheating.
    01:11:42 Students
    Alastair Inman ALASTAIR:
    It’s much better for them to be comparing their timelines to other people. Here’s what I want you to do now. I want you to take your timeline. I want you to compare it to the next table over. See if what you’ve got written so far is matching up. So that they can see, oh, yours is ten times bigger. Mine’s ten times smaller. Why? And then understand that, yeah, a billion is a thousand million.
    01:12:04 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    They can make the calculation correctly.
    01:12:06 Students STUDENTS:
    [OVERLAP]
    01:12:09 Alastair Inman
    Student STUDENT:
    Yeah, every one inch.
    ALASTAIR:
    So do you know how many inches it’s going to be?
    STUDENT:
    [INAUDIBLE] Forty-six.
    ALASTAIR:
    Perfect. There you go.
    01:12:16 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    The third part is to then go back out to the 46 meter timeline, the rope timeline.
    01:12:19 History of the Earth lesson
    Part 3 of 3 ALASTAIR:
    So what we’re going to do is we’re going to recreate the basic timeline just like we did last time.
    01:12:24 Students
    Alastair Inman ALASTAIR:
    Let’s see if you guys can do a little better this time. Walk to where you think the Paleozoic began. With your table partner. And they realize, okay, we’ve learned something. This is a lot different than when we did it last time, isn’t it? Last time you guys were all strung out along the rope. Some of you were way down here. You guys are right. If we find today and we count back—Does anybody know the actual number?
    STUDENTS:
    Five hundred forty-four.
    ALASTAIR:
    Five hundred and forty-four. One, two, three, four, 500 and 44. You guys are good.
    01:12:54 Before ALASTAIR:
    The first time we’re out here, they don’t do very well. You all where you want to be?
    01:12:59 Alastair Inman
    Students STUDENT:
    No.
    ALASTAIR:
    It’s up here.
    STUDENT 2:
    Oh.
    01:13:02 After ALASTAIR:
    And they come back the second time, they’re much better at it.
    01:13:05 Students ALASTAIR:
    They can know where events occurred and not just the ones we’ve already been over.
    01:13:08 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    But some of the new ones that they’ve learned through their own research.
    01:13:11 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    Walk back to where you think oxygen appeared.
    STUDENT:
    Oh, that’s hard.
    ALASTAIR:
    It is hard. This is a challenge one. And so they, they get a sense of feeling very proud about actually being able to figure that out on their own. Atta boy. Right around here.
    STUDENT:
    What?
    ALASTAIR:
    It’s when we started to get enough oxygen.
    STUDENT:
    How did you know that?
    STUDENT 2:
    I don’t know.
    ALASTAIR:
    Atta boy.
    01:13:31 Alastair Inman interview ALASTAIR:
    So that’s why I do it as a, as a three-part rather than just a one-part.
    01:13:34 Alastair Inman
    Students ALASTAIR:
    You guys did phenomenal. Do you notice how much better you did the second time than the first time?
    STUDENTS:
    Yeah.
    01:13:38 Alastair Inman interview
    Students ALASTAIR:
    I also believe that if you’re really going to learn something, just learning it once it’s not going to stick. So by doing it multiple times in different ways, sometimes outside with actively moving around, sometimes researching it on the computer, looking it in the textbook and putting it on the timeline, that’s how they’re actually going to learn where the things happen.
    01:13:56 With thanks to Jeremy Howard and the staff & students at Francis Parker Middle School
    END CREDITS [MUSIC]
    01:14:00 WINGSPAN PICTURES LOGO
    A WingSpan Pictures Production for Teaching Channel [MUSIC]
    01:14:04 Fade to black

School Details

Lexington Junior High School
4351 Orange Avenue
Cypress CA 90630
Population: 1226

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Alastair Inman
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