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Essential Science for Teachers: Earth and Space Science

Every Rock Tells A Story

How can we use rocks to understand events in the Earth's past? In this session, participants explore the processes that form sedimentary rocks, learn how fossils are preserved, and are introduced to the theory of plate tectonics.

Learning Goals

Microscopic view of a fossil.

During this session, you will have an opportunity to build understandings to help you:

  • Appreciate that rocks are evidence of the basic processes that have transformed the Earth over billions of years
  • Describe the stories that fossils and layered rocks tell
  • Understand some of the history behind the classification of matter
  • Relate the positions of continents and ocean floors to the overall structure of tectonic plates

Video Overview

Every rock has a story to tell if you know how to read it. Within the unique composition and arrangement of materials that compose different rocks, you can find patterns that are evidence of the processes that formed them — processes that represent chapters in Earth’s dynamic history. In this session we will focus on discerning events in Earth’s past from rock clues. This session begins a multi-part investigation into the kinds of stories rocks can tell.

Video Outline

What can an unusual rock structure tell us about Earth’s past? During this session, we join Dr. Carol de Wet as she investigates rock pinnacles in a Pennsylvania quarry. Her investigation takes us from the quarry to the laboratory, and uncovers secrets embedded in the rock that not only tell us about the geologic history of the area, but ultimately provide evidence that supports a once-revolutionary scientific theory that has forever changed our perception of how the Earth “works” — tectonic plate theory.

Dr. de Wet models the use of observation and reasoning to decipher the clues found in rocks, so that we can become better at interpreting their stories. As we come to understand the story that the rock pinnacles in the quarry tell us, we learn how sedimentary rock forms.

Throughout the video we observe elementary school children’s ideas as they are interviewed about rock formation. We also visit Laurie Wicks’ third-grade class in Middletown, Delaware, and watch the students conduct a fossil investigation. We listen as the students theorize about how fossils form and the kinds of rocks in which fossils are likely to be preserved.

Series Directory

Essential Science for Teachers: Earth and Space Science


Produced by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 2004.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-742-8