Lava Falls Walk

Goal: To acquaint students with the unique geological features of the Mount St. Helens lahar.

Objectives: Students will

  1. Observe dramatic effects of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption
  2. Participate effectively in a cooperative group task
  3. Focus their attention on and identify selected features of this landscape
  4. Appreciate their own impact on natural features and landscapes
Concept: Dramatic geological events shape the earth in ways that may seem ordinary and indiscernible to the untrained eye. These events also leave behind extraordinary puzzles and anomalies. From some of those created by the recent eruption, we can learn much that is new about the nature and power of volcanic activity.

Summary: Students look for, identify and sketch six selected features of the lahar they will encounter on a 40-minute walk. They are encouraged to participate actively in small-group exploration and examination, and engage in creative interpretation, in order to fully experience the richness of this environment.

Content Areas: Science (geology), art

Materials Needed:


  1. Lava Falls Images
  2. pencils
  3. paper
  4. clipboards or notebooks
Teacher Narrative: A Lahar Tells a Story

Evaluation: Because the intent of this lesson is to encourage maximum engagement and creativity, and may serve to set the tone for other study activities on the lahar (see Disturbance Ecology Lessons), formal grading is not recommended.

Instructional Sequence:

  1. Gather students in the parking lot as they leave the bus. Identify landmarks: Lava Canyon, the lahar, Mt. Adams, Hood, Rainer, the blast zone, Shoestring Glacier, etc. Give instructions for protecting this ecologically sensitive area. ("Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints!") Read aloud the narrative which follows.

  2. Introduce the Lava Falls Images activity handout. Reassure students that artistic talent is not required, and that sketches may be accompanied by descriptive narrative. Remind them to walk carefully and minimize disturbance to the environment. Each student will need to find one example of each item on the handout; however, no one is expected to do so without the assistance of others. They should confer, share ideas, point-out "discoveries" to each other, etc.

  3. Accompany the students and circulate among them, but tell them they are "on their own" in terms of finding answers. Their findings and conclusions, ideas and questions will be addressed in the follow-up discussion.

  4. Following the walk, reassemble the students to share their drawings and discuss their findings. For the benefit of those unable to identify the assigned features, retrace your steps, pointing-out and explaining all six.

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