Journey to the Earth’s Core





Name of Activity Journey to the Earth’s Core
Author Kristen Burns and Sarah Halpert
Keywords sturdy car, rock, travel, ramp, layers, earth, crust, mantle, core, axles, bushings, car, density, plate tectonics, mass, friction
Subject Simple Machines
Grade Level 4, 5, 6
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description The kid’s needed to design a sturdy car that will hold a rock (small pebble). The car will then
travel down a ramp that is labeled with the layers of the earth. The upper half of the ramp
was the crust and the lower half of the ramp was the mantle. The floor directly after the ramp
was labeled the outer core and following the outer core was the inner core section. The kids
had to adjust the axles and bushings on the car to allow it to travel farther. Once the cars were
finished we tested them on the ramp to see how far into the “earth” they went.
Lesson Objectives: Review density and how to measure the mass of an object

Build a sturdy car and tweak it to allow it to travel the furthest down the ramp

Learn the layers of the earth

Materials Needed: Simple Machine Kit

Materials for a ramp

Paper to cover the ramp that depicts the layers of the earth

Small rocks


Preparation and Set Up: Get a large piece of paper and cut it down to fit the ramp while allowing some extra to account
for the outer and inner core section. Design the paper with fun facts about each layer
(temperature, thickness, etc.).
Necessary Background Vocabulary:

Plate Tectonics


Axle and Bushing


Procedure 1. Explain density and the theory of plate tectonics. Also, review how to measure the mass of an object. 2. Have them start building the cars. Make sure that the cars have a spot to hold the rock and that they are sturdy. Explain how to adjust the bushings to account for less friction. 3. Take the mass of the rock. 4. Test the cars on the ramp and see how far into the “earth” they were able to travel. 5. Fill out the worksheet.
Extensions: If a group finishes early ask them if they can make the car go further.

Build a Sundial





Name of Activity Build a Sundial
Author STOMP
Keywords sundial, observations, revolution, earth, sun, rotation, axis, gnomon, solstice, equinox
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level 4, 5, 6
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Students will build a sundial and record observations from it.
Lesson Objectives: This activity introduces students to various topics associated with the revolution of the earth around the sun and the earth’s rotation on its axis with respect to the sun.
Materials Needed: Paper plate
Popsicle stick
Preparation and Set Up: Gather the necessary materials.
Arrange students in pairs.
Distribute necessary materials.
Necessary Background A sundial can record one of two things. Either the sun’s position in the sky can be recorded at various stages throughout the day or the length of the shadow cast can be monitored at the same time everyday for a period of weeks or months. The lesson can be used to target either of these principles.

Gnomon – The object which casts the shadow.
Solstice – The day of the year that is has either the longest or shortest amount of daylight depending on the sun’s position in the sky (in the northern hemisphere the winter solstice is the shortest day and the summer solstice is the longest day).
Equinox – The two days of the year that fall midway between the Summer and Winter solstices. Day and night are almost equal.

  1. Start with an introductory discussion about seasons as determined by the sun. The summer and winter solstices, and the fall and spring equinoxes.
    1. Sundials support this theory by demonstrating that the sun’s rays are most indirect in the winter, when the sun is lowest in the sky and the day is the shortest. The shadow cast the the gnomon is the longest.
    2. The summer is the opposite. The shadow cast is the shortest.
  2. Introduce the idea of the Earth’s rotation.
    1. To us, it appears that the sun moves across the sky, but it is actually the revolution of the Earth on its axis.
  3. When the sun rises in the East it cast a shadow that can be tracked all day long as the sun moves from East to West.
  4. To make a sundial:
    1. Draw two perpendicular lines on the back of a paper plate that cross at the center.
    2. Designate one line to be north.
    3. Draw in a compass rose to label all the directions.
    4. Place a popsicle stick in the center and secure it with tape on the underside of the plate.
    5. You can either demonstrate with a flashlight how the sundial works or bring them outside.
      1. Have students mark where the dial is at a particular time of day (use a compass to orient the sundial).
      2. Let students go outside at different times of the day to test their sundial (be sure to always use a compass to orient the sundial).
      3. Do this activity over a month/year to see how the length of the shadow changes with the seasons.
Reference 1

Orbits of the Earth, Moon, and Sun





Name of Activity Orbits of the Earth, Moon, and Sun
Author Michael Hart, Usula Deelstra
Keywords earth, moon, sun, models, rotation, tilt, relative size, seasons, stars, size, motion
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description The class will explore the relation between the Earth, moon, and sun using classroom models.
Lesson Objectives: The Purpose of this activity is to discuss how the Earth, moon, and sun move relative to each other. And to discuss rotation, tilt, and relative size. In regards to relative size, a physical activity is introduced to help enhance the concept of the relation of the Earth, moon, and sun to each other.
Materials Needed: - Balloons.
- Tape Measure.
- Globe.
- Flashlight.
Necessary Background This activity deals with the orbit of the earth around the sun and the orbit of the moon around the earth. It takes the earth one year (365 days) to orbit the sun. At the same time, the earth is rotating about its own axis. The earth makes one complete rotation once a day. The combination of the rotation of the earth, its orbit about the sun, and the earth’s natural tilt cause seasons on the earth. For a more detailed description see This website contains information about the earth’s orbit, its rotation, and the seasons. Similar to the earth, the moon has an orbit and rotation also. A description of the moon can be found at


  1. Begin the activity by discussing facts relating to the Earth, moon and sun.
  2. Talk about how the three move relative to each other.
  3. Select three students to imitate the motion of the sun, Earth, and moon.
    1. Have the Earth stand in place and turn around, talk about how one turn is one day.
    2. Have the Earth walk one lap around the sun, imitating the passing of one year on Earth.
    3. Have the student carefully do both movements together.
    4. Next add the moon. Have the moon orbit the Earth, it takes 28 days for the moon to orbit the Earth. During this time we see all the stages of the moon.
    5. Finally, put all the movements together.
  4. Discus the tilt of the Earth, and how it produces seasons.
    1. Turn out the lights. Using the globe and flashlight have one student hold the flashlight representing the sun.
    2. Have a second student walk around the flashlight with the globe.
    3. Show students that as the globe moves around the sun, the northern or southern hemispheres will be tilted towards the sun, these are the different seasons.
  5. Discuss the relative sizes of the sun, moon, and Earth.
    1. The sun is the largest, but to us it appears about the same size as the moon because it is so much farther away.
    2. Have students break into groups of two.
    3. One student will get a small balloon and the other a larger balloon.
    4. The student with the small balloon will tell the student with the large balloon to walk backwards until the balloons appear to be the same size
    5. Finally, ask students to discuss the relationship between the size that an object appears and the distance from you that it is. Finally, explain that we “built” our own models today to explore the motion of the planets, engineers use models to understand systems like the solar system that are too big to make life-sized models to study.
Reference 1

Moving Through the Mantle





Name of Activity Moving Through the Mantle
Author STOMP
Keywords igneous rocks, mantle, transport, NXT, earth
Subject NXT
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description To build an extension to the Magic School Bus that will clear a path through the igneous rocks to gravel through the mantle and transport passengers.
Lesson Objectives: - To design a structure that is capable of moving objects.
- To program the “School Buses” to travel for a given length of time.
Materials Needed: - Pre-Constructed LEGO NXT cars (from lesson 1)
- Various LEGO pieces
- Pre-assembled tunnel (of cardboard, book lining sides and a board for a top.
- Pieces of sponges to represent igneous rocks
- Miscellaneous objects (for extensions)
- Computers running MINDSTORMS
Preparation and Set Up: - Lay out sponge pieces in a path.
- Construct a tunnel with an opening that is wide enough for an NXT vehicle to fit through.
- Set up computers running MINDSTORMS.

- Arrange students in groups of 2 – 4.

- Distribute NXT cars and LEGO kits.

Necessary Background Vocabulary:
Igneous rock
  1. Tell students that they will be navigating their NXT vehicle through the igneous rock and the mantle, carrying passengers the whole way.
  2. Students must first design an extension that will push the sponge pieces (igneous rock) out of the way of their vehicle.
  3. Then, they will need to program their car to travel through the tunnel and stop so that they can drop off their passengers. This can be done using time or a light sensor.
  4. Let students test their designs on the igneous rocks and through the tunnel.
  5. Students will program their vehicles to stop exactly where passengers must be picked up or dropped off.
  6. At the end of class, come together and let each group show-off their design. Discuss the features of the igneous rock layer and the mantle.
Extensions or Modifications: - Program the NXT to play a song once it gets through the mantle.
- Try moving heavier objects in place of igneous rocks.
Reference 1
Reference 2
Reference 3

Retrieving the Core





Name of Activity Retrieving the Core
Author STOMP
Keywords core, earth, magnetic, sample, NXT, invention, earth’s core, magnet
Subject NXT
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Time 2 Hours Total
Brief Description Students will use their NXT vehicles they built in lesson 1 to retrieve a sample of the magnetic core of the Earth.
Lesson Objectives: - To learn about the layers of the Earth.
- To build a retrieving device.
- To travel to the “Core”, retrieve a sample and travel back.
Materials Needed: - Engineering Design Sheet
- Pre-constructed NXT vehicles (from lesson 1)
- Computers running MINDSTORMS software
- Additional motors
- LEGO building pieces
- Pre-built model of the Earth’s core with magnets dispersed around
- The Magic School Bus: inside the Earth by Joanna Cole
- Lego Reflection Response Sheet
Preparation and Set Up: - Create and set up a model Earth (ideas and photos attached).
- Collect materials
- Make copies of activity worksheets
- Engineering Design Sheet
- Engineer’s Programming Sheet
- Programmer’s Icon Sheet
- Arrange students in groups of two
- Give each group their NXT vehicle, an extra motor, extra LEGO pieces (you can also give them a magnet and tape for their retrieval device)
Necessary Background Attached is a sheet with references that have information about the layers of the Earth.
Earth’s core
  1. Start by reviewing the inside of the Earth and it’s layers. Questions you might ask are:
    1. What are the layers inside of the Earth called? (crust, mantle, outer core, inner core)
    2. What is the crust made of? Who can name the 3 types of rock found their? (igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary)
    3. Who can tell me about the mantle? The core?
  2. Read The Magic School Bus: Inside the Earth to the students to facilitate discussion on the layers of the Earth and connect to previous activities.
  3. Discuss the core of the Earth, explaining the difference between the outer core and inner core. Review what the children know about magnets.
  4. Divide the class into groups of 2 students. Explain that they will use the “School Bus” they made in lesson 1 (the NXT vehicle) for this challenge.
  5. Tell the students that the design challenge is to build and program your “School Bus” to collect a magnetic sample from the core of the Earth.
  6. Write the challenge on the board:
    1. Using the model of the core, explain that the NXT car must travel to the core.
    2. Once in the inner core, the collecting invention must collect a sample from the core.
  7. Explain to students that they will be allowed to use another motor for this challenge.
  8. Brainstorm some ideas of what might work to retrieve the rock sample. Write ideas on the board for future reference.
  9. Distribute the “Engineering Design Sheet” (attached) to each student.
  10. Model how to fill out these worksheets. Let the students complete their designs before they can begin to build.
  11. Allow students to build their inventions.

Note: If this lesson is going to be taught in 2 class periods, this is a good time to stop.

  1. If possible, bring up MINDSTORMS on a computer and mirror it on a TV monitor so that all the students can see. If not, model it to a few students at a time around a computer.
  2. Have each student fill out an “Engineer’s Programming Sheet” (attached) to complete before they program their NXT. Students can cut an paste icons from the “Programmer’s Icon Sheet” on to the programming sheet.
  3. When students have finished planning, let them program on MINDSTORMS and download their program to their NXTs.
  4. Allow students to test their designs on the model Earth (examples of model Earths are attached).
  5. Bring the class together. Let each group demonstrate their design. When all the groups have had a chance to show their design, review today’s activity:
    1. What were some difficulties that students encountered while building? How did they overcome these difficulties?
    2. What were some difficulties that students encountered while programming? How did students fix their programs?
    3. Did any students have to redesign?
    4. Review the layers of the Earth.
Extensions or Modifications: After retrieving the sample of the core, turn the Magic School Bus around and go back
through the mantle and the crust to the surface of the Earth.
Reference 1
Reference 2
Reference 3
Reference 4
Reference 5
Reference 6

Cracking the Crust





Name of Activity Cracking the Crust
Author STOMP
Keywords school bus, crust, earth, rock, NXT
Subject NXT
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Time 2 Hours Total
Brief Description Students will use their “School Buses” that they built in lesson 1 to complete a tour through the crust of the Earth.
Lesson Objectives: - To identify the crust and recognize there are three distinct layers of crust: sedimentary rock, metamorphic rock, and igneous rock.
- To learn the order of the layers and specific features of each later of crust.
- To correctly program the “School Bus” to stop at each layer for a given period of time.
Materials Needed: - Pre-constructed “School Buses” (from lesson 1)
- LEGO NXT kits
- Magic School Bus: Inside the Earth by Joanna Cole
- Simulated Earth crust material:
– wooden base
– sandpaper (sedimentary rock)
– bubble wrap (metamorphic rock)
– gravel (igneous rock)
- Saran Wrap
- ‘How Will We Crack the Crust?’ Planning Worksheet
- ‘Cruising Through the Crust’ Programming Worksheet
Preparation and Set Up: Set up the layers of the crust:
– There should be a layer of saran wrap as the outer crust that the vehicle will need to break through. You can support this with popsicle sticks/pencils.
– The NXT will drive over the other material, so make a track with each layer farther away from the saran wrap starting with the sandpaper and ending with the gravel.
- Collect building materials.
- Photocopy one worksheet for each student.
- Arrange students in groups of 2 – 4.
- Distribute materials to groups.
Necessary Background Vocabulary:
Sedimentary rock
Metamorphic rock
Igneous rock
Earth’s crust
Limestone Cave
  1. Students must design a car that can take people on a tour of the Earth’s crust. They must transport passengers through the three layers of the crust: sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous. They must first break through the soil and move through the crust.
  2. The students will use their cars from lesson one. Students must add an extension that will cut through the soil (move/break the saran wrap).
  3. Students should plan their design on the ‘How Will We Crack the Crust?’ Worksheet.
  4. Check students plans.
  5. Have students build their attachments.
  6. When the attachments are built, have students begin programming their vehicle. Based on time intervals, they need to stop at different points to drop-off and pick-up passengers. The following are their programming tasks:
    1. Before entering Earth, the Magic School Bus will pick up a father and daughter. After cracking the crust, the bus will continue to the first layer of sedimentary rock (sandpaper). The two passengers will get off here to explore limestone caves.
    2. After dropping the passengers off the bus must continue to the metamorphic layer (bubble wrap) where it will pick up two new passengers.
    3. The bus must move onto the gravel (igneous rock). The bus must stop here to pick up two more passengers
    4. Finally, since the rock is getting very hot, the but must transport the passengers back to the surface of the crust and stop once it leaves the crust.
Extensions or Modifications: - Have students design and attachment to scoop up samples of each rock type.
- Have students create a brochure for the Magic School Bus Inside the Earth tour.
- Describe the vehicle and what you might observe on the tour.
- Send a postcard from a layer of the crust incluiding an illustration of what you saw and written explanation of your experience.
Reference 1
Reference 2
Reference 3

Switch to our mobile site