About this Interactive

Introduction | Goals | How to Use This Site | Credits


Rock Cycle is an interactive Web site where students can learn all about rocks and geology, the science of rocks. They will learn how rocks can be identified, how they are formed, and how they change over time.

Students will identify the three major kinds of rocks and learn how to tell them apart. They will also discover how the different types of rocks are formed. Despite what students might assume, rocks actually change over time. Students will learn what kind of changes can happen to rocks, and about the processes that cause these changes.

Putting all this knowledge together, students will understand that the rock cycle — a continuous pattern of change — helps explain what happens over and over again to the rocks in our earth.


According to the National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment and the National Research Council, as a result of their activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop an understanding of:
  • Structure of the earth system
  • Earth's history
Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard (Content Standard D: Earth and Space Science) include:


  • Landforms are the result of a combination of constructive and destructive forces. Constructive forces include crustal deformation, volcanic eruption, and deposition of sediment, while destructive forces include weathering and erosion.

  • Some changes in the solid earth can be described as the "rock cycle." Old rocks at the earth's surface weather, forming sediments that are buried, then compacted, heated, and often recrystallized into new rock. Eventually, the new rocks may be brought to the surface by the forces that drive plate motions, and the rock cycle continues.

  • Soil consists of weathered rocks and decomposed organic material from dead plants, animals, and bacteria. Soils are often found in layers, with each having a different chemical composition and texture.


  • The earth processes we see today, including erosion, movement of lithospheric plates, and changes in atmospheric composition, are similar to those that occurred in the past. Earth's history is also influenced by occasional catastrophes, such as the impact of an asteroid or comet.

(National Science Education Standards, 1996)

With these expectations in mind, goals of the Rock Cycle interactive are:

  • Identify the three major classes of rocks.
    By looking at photos of real rocks, students will identify the typical characteristics of the three main types of rocks: sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous. Students will also view animations to learn about the way each of these rock types is formed.

  • Understand the processes that cause rocks to change.
    There are five major processes that can turn a rock from one type into another. Using animations and interactive drag-and-drop features, students will learn about these processes and the effects they have on rocks.

  • Conceptualize the recurring series of changes undergone by rocks.
    Rocks are constantly — but very slowly — changing from one type to another all the time. The changes happen over and over again in a repeating cycle. Students will use an interactive diagram to learn about the rock cycle and what it can tell us about the rocks in our earth.

In keeping with the expected knowledge of students in grades 5-8, the Rock Cycle Web site will help assess the skills needed to be successful in an earth science class. By using assessments and interactive lessons, teachers will have a better understanding of each student's strengths and weaknesses. Printable scorecards will be used when assessing skills.

The test questions will consist of random formats such as multiple-choice, problem-solving, fill-in-the-blank, and long answer. This assessment methodology will prevent guessing and accurately assess the student's knowledge about the rock cycle.

How to Use This Site

Rock Cycle consists of three sections and an assessment. Each section explores one aspect of the rock cycle. Simply follow the instructions on the screen to learn about different kinds of rocks and how to tell them apart; how the major classes of rocks are formed; the processes that cause rocks to change from one type to another; and the way changes that happen to rocks can be pictured as a continuous cycle.

Students will build a rock collection by selecting different types of rocks and reading their descriptions. As the interactive progresses, students will view animations, drag and drop items into the correct places with a mouse, and take a series of challenges that will test their growing knowledge of all things rocky. Sometimes things will happen to the rocks in the collection — rocks might disappear or change, and students will have to figure out how to get them back. After completing all the activities, students will test their skills and see how much they've learned about rocks.

Students should read section introductions carefully, as they give a basic overview of concepts, and use the Glossary to look up definitions to unfamiliar terms.

Incorporating outdoor activities in conjunction with the Rock Cycle interactive can keep students focused and interested for longer periods of time. Having students hunt for certain types of rocks to bring to class or going exploring outside on the school playground makes the lesson more hands-on for the student, and improves the chances that students will retain information.

The Rock Cycle lesson can be incorporated into a cooperative learning project. Students can pretend they are on a mission to find certain rocks, similar to a treasure hunt. Once they decide on the rocks they want to collect, they can prepare a group presentation to discuss their findings.

Technical Requirements

  1. Browser using Internet Explorer 5 (and higher) and Mozilla 5 (and higher). Best results will be with using latest browser versions

  2. Flash player 7 minimum requirement

  3. Javascript in browser is turned on


Production Credits

Rock Cycle is a production of Thirteen/WNET New York. Copyright 2007, Annenberg Media. All rights reserved.

Content Production

Ashlinn Quinn, Writer
Ashlinn Quinn is an Outreach Producer in Thirteen/WNET New York's Educational and Community Outreach Department, the LAB@Thirteen. She develops and manages educational outreach projects associated with PBS broadcasts. Recent projects have included producing a media-rich Web site for high school global history teachers, Wide Angle: "Window into Global History"; creating educational materials for the 2006 PBS broadcast series African American Lives; coordinating outreach events associated with the PBS newsmagazine program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly; and generating interactive online content for projects including the teen-oriented broadcast program What's Up in Finance and the animated kids' news Web site News Flash Five. Before joining Thirteen's Education Department, she worked as a music teacher and then at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, where she wrote curriculum and conducted teacher professional development programs focusing on hands-on science. She holds a B.A. with dual concentrations in music and psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. in sociocultural anthropology from the University of Chicago.

Interactive and Broadband Unit

Anthony Chapman, Director of Interactive and Broadband
Anu Krishnan, Producer
Shannon Palmer, Flash Programmer
Lenny Drozner, Designer and Flash Animator
Ying Zhou-Hudson, Graphics Production
Brian Santalone, HTML Implementation
Leslie Kriesel, Copy Editor

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