A Place in Time

Goal: To familiarize students with an eruptive history and related world events, and impart a sense of the immensity of geological time.

Objectives: Students will


  1. Construct a personal history timeline
  2. Conceptualize a relationship between human historical events and events in natural history
  3. Apply memory aids to the task of learning dates and names of eruptive periods
  4. Conduct research in cooperative learning groups
  5. Construct a timeline of eruptive history at Mount St. Helens


Key Concepts: Study of eruptive history yields important understandings of earth's formation, present volcanic activity, and what the future may bring.

Summary: Students learn about timelines by creating their own, then are introduced to the major eruptive periods of Mount St. Helens. In research teams, they place these periods in context with historical occurrences. Students are taught names and characteristics of each eruptive period, utilizing metaphor and other aids to memory. (Vulcan's Vocabulary will help acquaint students with memory aids.)

Content Areas: History, social studies, science, math, study skills

Materials Needed: Handout:

Evaluation: Quiz students by having them record on handout the name and dates of each period, one characteristic feature of the period, and one major world event that occurred during that period.

Instructional Sequence:


  1. For opening discussion, focus on students' memories of their own important life events: "What kinds of events stand out in your mind?" (Brainstorm and list on board: first step, first day of school, learning to ride a bike, going to summer camp, etc.) "Do you often forget when, exactly, they happened?" "Does it help to remember them in relation to other events (holidays, birthdays, etc.)? "Do you recall them in mental pictures?" Extend by having students brainstorm likely future events up to the age of fifty (getting a driver's license, going to college, beginning careers, getting married, births of children and grandchildren, etc.)


  2. Present the concept of timelines.


  3. Provide drawing paper and colored markers or crayons. Establish a scale (for example, one inch on the paper may equal five years; or each student may be given a 10-inch length of string and pieces of masking tape to be used as labels and attached to string at measured intervals.) Direct students to create personal-history timelines. Any format should be acceptable, as long as it is titled, sequenced, and labeled with dates, and brief descriptions or illustrations of events, 


  4. Provide time for students to compare and contrast timelines and major life events.


  5. For contrast, show students a length of twine, with each inch standing for 100 years. Have them compute the number of years represented by the twine; talk about ways of solving this type of math problem. Explain that the length of twine represents Mount St. Helens' eruptive history, and show interval lengths for each of the major eruptive periods. (To give a sense of scale, attach a label to the twine for each of the eruptive periods, and display.)


  6. List eruptive periods and approximate dates on the chalkboard and assign each period to a "research team." Provide class time and materials, or time in the library, for teams to research major world events occurring during the period assigned to that team.


  7. Have teams select the six most important and/or interesting historical events of their period; prepare on butcher paper a timeline of their assigned period with labels, descriptions, illustrations, etc.; and prepare to share their timelines with the rest of the class. 


  8. Describe for students the important characteristics of each eruptive period. Have students generate metaphors for each. (For example, the Swift Creek period might be likened to repeated backfiring from a car; the Pine Creek's major pyroclastic flows likened to a melting ice-cream cone, etc.) Have students record the names of the periods and their corresponding metaphors on the Eruptive Periods Worksheet/Quiz handout. Help them recall from team reports some of the concurrent historical events for each period and make note of them on the handout.


  9. Encourage students to use different colors to distinguish the different eruptive periods, and to make illustrations of the metaphors associated with them, in their notes on the handout. Kinesthetic learners will also want to re-draw the timeline. Explain that these devices aid retention, and will help prepare students to be tested on names, dates and characteristics of the eruptive periods. Also discuss the powerful linking that is established when an unfamiliar idea is associated with a familiar mental image through metaphor. Explain that this technique, too, aids retention and recall. (Example: If the metaphor for the Smith Creek period is King Kong, because it is the largest period, then students might visualize King Kong building pyramids with the Egyptians during 2000 to 1300 B.C.) Other memory aids suggested in The Magic of Metaphor and Vulcan's Vocabulary may be useful here.

    Extension Activities:


    1. Have students illustrate their personal timelines using pictures from the family album, illustrations, objects. Display in classroom.


    2. Do the same with a "personal future timeline" in connection with a lesson on goal-setting.


    3. Write haiku or other poems about one of the eruptive periods.


    4. Research eruptive histories of other volcanoes (Hekla, Fiji, Tambora, Krakatoa, Pele, Vesuvius, etc.) Create timelines for these and compare/contrast with Mount St. Helens. (See also Life on a Fiery Planet).


    5. For math extension, have students design an eruptive-periods timeline to scale in millimeters.