There is a Glacier Melting in the Classroom!

Better Lesson Mary Ellen Kanthack
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



Students aim to make sense of glacial phenomenon through observation and analysis of a mini glacier simulation in the classroom. Prior knowledge can be elicited from the short video clip of a "glacier calving", before engaging in data collection as they monitor the changes to their glacier model. Students primarily focus on how glacial ice moves and observes resulting changes in the the landscape, collecting measurements to provide evidence of the rate of erosion.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

4-ESS2-1 Make observations and/or measurements to provide evidence of the effects of weathering or the rate of erosion by water, ice, wind, or vegetation.

Clarification Statement: Examples of variables to test could include angle of slope in the downhill movement of water, amount of vegetation, speed of wind, relative rate of deposition, cycles of freezing and thawing of water, cycles of heating and cooling, and volume of water flow.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to a single form of weathering or erosion.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The terms "weathering" and "erosion" should be introduced to the students after they have seen and described this phenomena in action through the simulations. Formative assessment at the beginning of the lesson could include questions such as, "How do you think ice (glaciers) might affect the surface of the earth (landscapes)?" If possible, students should take time-lapse photos of their glacier models and compare them with photos of real-life landscape changes due to the effects of glaciers. Teachers should prompt discussion regarding landscape changes over time, how the environment would be affected by such changes, and how rising temperatures might effect the rate in glacial movement and change. Supplements to the glacial calving video might include student observation of time/lapse photos/simulation of glacial movement. Focus on glacier model that students will create could be precluded by having the students think about the effect that glaciers have on the landscape such as picking up and grinding rock/soil, then carrying it downstream.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
To more fully implement the practice students might first design their own glacier models/diagrams or create their own models inspired by the original teacher creation described in this resource. Prompting students with questions that explicitly address the scientific practice of modeling would support student three-dimensional learning as well. For example: "What do you notice about the design of the simulation?" Student observations could be listed on a class chart as a reference for their own model glacier designs. Introduction and encouraged use of the terms "weathering" and "erosion" could also be reviewed as students explain landscape changes and apply what they have learned by constructing explanations of the glacial calving phenomena. Teacher should also ask students to consider what effects the melting glacier had on their model Earth landscape and use the model as evidence to explain real-world changes to Earth's surface as a result of glaciers.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students could provide captions under photos taken which document glacier movement and resulting changes. They could share their captions with other students or student groups, reflecting on the evidence they have collected to support their discussion.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Teacher could reinforce the concept that ice breaks down rock, sediment, and soil, into smaller pieces and move them around, as it is not explicitly stted in the lesson.Students could observe before and after photos of glacier movement, using maps, photos, and videos. They could research areas in the world which have been affected by the movement of glaciers, past and present. Students could compare/contrast their observations with the observations they make during the mini-glacier simulation activity. Formative assessment could include written journal reflections on the comparisons between the two activities with emphasis on student understanding of ways glacial location and movement(past and present) affect landscapes.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students may adhere to the misconception that all glaciers move slowly over time and create the same types of changes in a landscape. The lesson does refer to changes that might be possible in mini-glacier simulation if a heat lamp or fan were used. Student's prior knowledge of time span for glacial movement could be assessed through class discussion. The video suggested for use in the beginning of the lesson, while demonstrating glacial movement, might infer for students that glacial movement always occurs rapidly.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Cause and effect is not an explicitly stated concept in this lesson. Teacher could guide student discussion of before/after photos from classroom lesson as well as photo and map research suggested in Core Details section above. Questions could include- " What did you illustrate/photograph at the beginning of the activity?" How did those photographs/illustrations change over time?" "What forces caused the changes to occur?" "What effect did those changes have on the landscape?"

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: While the resource does allow students to observe changes in the landscape due to glacial calving, in-depth observations of weathering and erosion are not presented in detail. In order to enhance NGSS dimensions, focus of teacher modeling might include discussion of changes in landscape due to weathering and erosion. Video shows rapid glacial movement, ( people in video cheering could be eliminated from view). Teacher might discuss whether students think that all glaciers move in that manner, having students review and reflect on their prior knowledge. Before/after photos of glacier activity used as a topic for discussion. Students could then be presented with videos /maps which depict slower forms of glacial movement. Questions might include- "What can be observed about glaciers from the videos/maps?" "How might people think that glaciers move and change the landscape?" "What type of changes might we expect from both slow and rapid moving glaciers?" " What effect could these changes have on the environment?" " How would they impact life in those areas?"

  • Instructional Supports: Students are engaged in real-life, meaningful activities designed to make sense of the glacial phenomenon. Students are provided with the opportunity to express and represent their ideas. Video included in lesson depicts student and teacher discussion. Teacher could expand on student input by asking questions which require students to clarify their responses as they provide justification for their decisions. Discussion time in video occurred as students were continuing to work on their diagrams; separate time allotment for discussion would be beneficial for students to experience peer and teacher feedback. Struggling students do benefit from the opportunity to express their understanding of glacial movement and subsequent erosion in photo form. Advanced students could use world map skills to track glacier movement both past and present, journaling glacial effects on world landscapes. Teacher provides self-reflection on student progress, explains how the lesson could be changed to interpret student performance, and gives examples of student proficiency in collecting data. Both video presentations and explanations provide valuable insight into developing instruction.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Teacher questioning in video provides observable evidence of student performance, which could be enhanced by expanding questions to include NGSS design., since there is no DCI formative assessment target included. Details of lesson provided by teacher supports teachers in planning instruction. Assessment is provided in the student worksheet in which students record changes over time in the mini-glacier activity. Teacher shares student data sheet samples, discussing how student learning is assessed, but rubric for assessment is not provided. Students might construct a written explanation for ways ice changes the landscape, giving evidence for their ideas.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students do not interact with the video presentations in the lesson.