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Essential Science for Teachers: Earth and Space Science

When Continents Collide

How is it possible that marine fossils are found on Mount Everest, the world's highest continental mountain? In this session, participants learn what happens when continents collide and how this process shapes the surface of the Earth.

Learning Goals

Classroom model of continental collision.

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

  • Relate plate tectonics to the formation of mountains
  • Describe two ways that mountains can form at convergent plate boundaries

Video Overview

From the volcanoes that encircle the Pacific Ocean in the “ring of fire” to the peaks of the Himalayas at the “top of the world,” mountains are perhaps Earth’s most dramatic landforms. Can we find a pattern in how and where mountains form? In this session, we build upon our understanding of plate tectonics to take a closer look at the connection between plate boundaries and mountain formation. In the process, we continue our exploration of rocks and the stories they can tell.

Video Outline

The video opens with a mystery: How is it possible that marine fossils are found on the world’s highest continental mountain, Mount Everest? To answer this question, we join geologist Dr. Keith Klepeis on a forensic rock investigation in Vermont. Starting with a metamorphic rock, we examine some of the features in rocks that provide evidence of the geological history of a location. From this evidence, we reconstruct the events that led to the formation of the Appalachian Mountains. We then apply this understanding to the formation of other mountain ranges and in doing so solve our marine fossil mystery.

Throughout the video, we watch interviews with children that reveal their ideas about the forces that can fold rock, how mountains form, and our Mount Everest marine fossil mystery. We also visit science consultant Duke Dawson and the fifth graders at The Goddard School of Science and Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts as they construct a model for mountain building. We listen as they discuss their ideas about the different shapes that characterize the Earth’s surface, called landforms, and the forces that sculpt them. We observe them grappling with the question of how mountains form, and follow their work as they manipulate dough and wood models that represent colliding continents.

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