Yellowstone Lesson Plan: How Yellowstone Geysers Erupt
OverviewIn “Why Yellowstone Geysers Erupt,” students will learn the key ingredients necessary to form geysers and how they function naturally. In addition to a geyser model demonstration (all grades), older students can build their own geyser models, while forming and testing hypotheses about the eruption behavior using different variables.
- Be able to define a geyser
- Identify the ingredients necessary to form a geyser
- Create a model of a geyser
- Hypothesize which geyser model will most accurately represent a real geyser
- Evaluate different geyser models for their performance simulation of a real geyser
- Accept or reject hypotheses after viewing the eruption demonstrations
BackgroundA geyser is a hot spring that erupts periodically and forcibly ejects water. Three ingredients are necessary for a geyser to exist: a source of heat, an abundant supply of water, and a special underground plumbing system.
- Antacid seltzer tablets, cut into halves
- Plastic film canisters with lids
- Needle, safety pin, or other small sharp object to puncture hole in lid
- Warm water
For Creating Geyser Models and Testing Hypotheses:
- Geyser Worksheet and Observation Guide (see download link below)
- Baking soda
- Soda bottles
- Plastic cups
- Plastic bowls
- Review the process and ingredients that make a geyser.
- Instruct students to write a definition for a geyser and to list the three natural ingredients necessary to form a geyser on the Geyser Worksheet and Observation Guide.
- Make a small hole in the lid of a plastic film canister with a ball point pen, needle, nail, or other small, sharp object.
- Select a student to assist with the demonstration in Step 5.
- Fill the film canister ¾ full with warm water. Instruct the student to add a piece of an antacid seltzer tablet (approximately ½ tablet). The student should replace the punctured lid quickly and place a finger over the hole in the lid. Instruct the student to shake the canister a few times and then remove his/her finger from the hole. Instruct class to observe the ensuing eruption.
- Ask students to describe what happened and why.
- Divide the students into groups of 3-4 persons.
- Inform students they will be given approximately 15 minutes to assemble a geyser's plumbing system and will have a variety of household items from which to choose (See the items listed under "Materials" for suggestions. Instructors may either collect the materials themselves or suggest items that each student should bring from home.)
- After the allotted time, instruct each group to explain why they chose to assemble their geyser in the manner they did.
- Ask students to hypothesize in writing which of the geyser models will most accurately represent a real geyser.
- Remind students that heat creates pressure in the Earth. In the classroom, pressure is being created by the chemical reaction of adding baking soda to vinegar.
Park ConnectionsYellowstone protects the largest concentration of natural geysers in the world. Though the plumbing systems of real park geysers are hidden underground, it is possible to create a model of a geyser's plumbing that will demonstrate how a narrow constriction contributes to geyser eruptions.
Lead group discussion or ask students to predict what might happen to the behavior of geysers in Yellowstone if…
- large earthquakes change the plumbing systems of geysers
- there is extended drought for centuries
- the Yellowstone volcano erupts cataclysmically
- geothermal energy drilling takes place in or just outside park boundaries
- people toss materials (garbage, rocks, other debris) into a geyser or otherwise clog or "cap" the opening of a geyser
Discuss/debate whether or not geysers in Yellowstone should be preserved in their natural state or tapped into for energy production.