Unit Overview

In Mosa Mack’s Rock Cycle unit, students are led through a progression of three inquiry lessons that focus on the properties of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks and the forces responsible for creating them. Forces include heat, pressure, cooling, weathering and erosion.

Lesson Overview

Medium solveSolve: Vocabulary Mind Map + Treasure Hunt Mystery
Medium makeMake: Journey through the Rock Cycle
Medium make extensionMake Extension: Use evidence from rock strata to organize Earth’s history
Medium engineerEngineer: Engineer a solution to protect a monument from weathering and erosion

Students work together to complete a vocabulary mind map before helping Mosa Mack solve the mystery of the Sunset Topaz. By the end of The Solve, students discover properties of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks and the forces responsible for creating them. (75 mins)

Students journey through the rock cycle by using crayons to model the properties and formation of sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rock. (120 mins)

Students complete three activities to construct an explanation, based on evidence from rock strata, for how the geologic time scale is used to organize Earth’s history. (140 mins)

Students develop and design a solution to prevent or mitigate the impact of weathering and erosion on a famous monument made of rock. (150 mins)

Next Generations Science Standards

Identify evidence from patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers to support an explanation for changes in a landscape over time. [Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence from patterns could include rock layers with marine shell fossils above rock layers with plant fossils and no shells, indicating a change from land to water over time; and, a canyon with different rock layers in the walls and a river in the bottom, indicating that over time a river cut through the rock.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include specific knowledge of the mechanism of rock formation or memorization of specific rock formations and layers. Assessment is limited to relative time.]
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.]
Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence from rock strata for how the geologic time scale is used to organize Earth's 4.6 billion year old history. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how analyses of rock formations and the fossils they contain are used to establish relative ages of major events in Earth’s history. Examples of Earth’s major events could range from being very recent (such as the last Ice Age or the earliest fossils of homo sapiens) to very old (such as the formation of Earth or the earliest evidence of life). Examples can include the formation of mountain chains and ocean basins, the evolution or extinction of particular living organisms, or significant volcanic eruptions.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include recalling the names of specific periods or epochs and events within them.]
Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth's materials and the flow of energy that drives this process. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the processes of melting, crystallization, weathering, deformation, and sedimentation, which act together to form minerals and rocks through the cycling of Earth’s materials.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the identification and naming of minerals.]

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Developing and Using Models
  • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Biogeology
  • Earth’s Materials and Systems
  • The History of Planet Earth

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect
  • Connections to Nature of Science
  • Patterns
  • Scale, Proportion and Quantity
  • Scientific Knowledge Assumes an Order and Consistency in Natural Systems
  • Stability and Change

Inquiry Scale

  • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
  • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
  • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.

Common Misconceptions

  • Students may think that rocks can only move through the rock cycle in one direction. Emphasize that each type of rock can become any other type of rock depending on the forces that act on it. Even an igneous rock can remelt and become another type of igneous rock.
  • Students may assume that weathering and erosion are the same force. Emphasize to students that weathering is the breaking down of rock while erosion is the process of transporting the broken-down sediments.
  • Students may initially believe that all rocks are the same. Emphasize that there are different types of rocks that have different properties.
  • Students may believe that all rocks of the same type are identical. Emphasize that even within rock types, rocks can look different. This is a result of the circumstances led to their formation.


    • Igneous Rock
    • Sedimentary Rock
    • Metamorphic Rock
    • Sediment
    • Erosion
    • Weathering

Content Expert Title

  • Eric Pyle, PhD
    Professor, Department of Geology & Environmental Science James Madison University


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Vocabulary Cards
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Design Student Handout
  • Vocabulary Mind Map

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