MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Geologic Time: The Ticking of Our Planet’s 4.6 Billion Year Clock

Phoebe Cohen
Education and Outreach Lead
MIT NASA Astrobiology Team
MIT
Cambridge, MA


Francis MacDonald
Assistant Professor
Harvard University Department of Earth
and Planetary Sciences
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

*MIT BLOSSOMS thanks the Harvard Museum of Natural History for allowing us to film this lesson at several of their exhibits.


Lesson vetted and approved by CPALMS

 

 

The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. That’s a hard number to conceptualize. What does 4.6 billion look like, and what happened during all those hundreds of millions of years between the formation of our planet and now? This BLOSSOMS lesson will help students conceptualize the enormity of geologic time and learn about important events in Earth’s history. Students will also learn how geologic time can help explain seemingly incomprehensible processes, like the formation of the Himalayan Mountains from a flat plain to their current height, and the evolution of a tiny group of reptiles into enormous dinosaurs. The lesson will take approximately 45 minutes. Students should have a basic understanding of biology and a familiarity with geology is helpful but not necessary. The supplies required include a measuring tape that is at least 5 meters long, a 5 meter long piece of string, ribbon, or rope, index cards or other stiff pieces of paper, and calculators. During the breaks, students will construct a geologic timeline of their own in the classroom and do simple calculations to determine how long amounts of time can lead to impressive changes in the height of the Himalayan Mountains and the size of a group of reptiles. 

Phoebe Cohen is the Education and Outreach Lead for MIT’s NASA Astrobiology Team. With a Ph.D. in paleontology and experience in informal science education, Phoebe develops educational content and facilitates the outreach initiatives of her Team. She is devoted to promoting a greater understanding of the natural world and to helping scientists better communicate the amazing things they do.

Francis MacDonald is an Assistant Professor of Geology in the Earth and Planetary Science Department at Harvard University. Francis' research focuses on the interactions of climate, life, and ocean geochemistry in deep time. This work begins with field studies of Neoproterozoic and Paleozoic strata in Arctic Alaska, northwest Canada, Mongolia and Namibia.

Watch lectures by Harvard faculty and other scientists and naturalists, presented by the Harvard Museum of Natural History - where much of this BLOSSOMS video lesson was filmed.  Included are several videos on the topic of evolution.
http://www.hmnh.harvard.edu/lectures-classes-events/videos.html

This is a link to the original article on the lizard research done by Jonathan Losos and his colleagues, entitled Adaptive differentiation following experimental island colonization in Anolis lizards.
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v387/n6628/abs/387070a0.html

This site, presented by Starting Point: Teaching Entry Level Geoscience, provides resources for teaching about radiometric dating.
http://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/earthhistory/creationism/radiomet.html

This website, Time Scale Creator, enables you to explore and create charts of any portion of the geologic time scale from an extensive suite of global and regional events in Earth History.
https://engineering.purdue.edu/Stratigraphy/tscreator/index/index.php

This site, Understanding Evolution for Teachers, provides comprehensive teaching resources on this topic.
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evohome.html

This is the site of Jonathan Losos’s lab at Harvard University including information on Anolis Lizards.
http://www.oeb.harvard.edu/faculty/losos/

This site, sponsored by teaching Quantitative Skills in the Geosciences, provides a back-of –the envelope calculations exercise on figuring the height of the Himalayas.
http://serc.carleton.edu/quantskills/activities/botec_himalayasheight.html

This site, The National Science Digital Library, provides general resources for teaching Earth Sciences and Evolution.
http://nsdl.org/

This site is presented by The Science Education Resource Center (SERC), an office of Carleton College that works to improve education through projects that support educators. There are numerous resources for Earth Science.
http://serc.carleton.edu/index.html

This is exactly what I was

Anonymous
October 19, 2011 at 9:24 am

This is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for writing!

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This is exactly what I was

Anonymous
October 19, 2011 at 9:24 am

This is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for writing!