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Providing for Reflection
Despite a limited level of commitment while working on a module, students can still experience significant learning if they enter into the reflection process. Ideally, reflection occurs at various points during the module; however, reflection done only at the close of a module can also be a powerful learning experience.


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What is the focus of this module? The four volcano modules are problem-based learning experiences that emphasize different kinds of volcanic hazards and geologic processes.

Volcano Module Name Emphasis


A New High School in Orting non-eruption hazards


Volcanic Unrest in Paradise effusive types


A New Eruption in the Cascades explosive types


Yellowstone different sizes of hot spot volcanic eruptions

The teacher/students may choose to engage in one, all, or any combination of the four volcano modules. It may be best if groups of students undertake different volcano modules in order to facilitate inter-team comparing/contrasting different types of volcanoes. When using modules 2, 3, and 4, be aware that the uplift and seismic data are hypothetical and not based on actual observations.

What areas of the 7-12 curriculum are addressed by the modules? The modules should provide learning opportunities related to earth science, geology, social studies, history and risk assessment and management.

What is the compelling problem that students will face in each module?

A New High School in Orting The students' company, a geological engineering firm called Volcanoes-R-Us, has been asked to decide whether to build a new high school in the shadow of a restless volcanic giant, Mt. Rainier.

Volcanic Unrest in Paradise! Kilauea in Hawaii shows signs of activity. What are the prospects for the nearby population?

A New Eruption in the Cascades? Mt. Hood is starting to act like Mt. St. Helens did in 1980, but Mt. Hood is just 40 miles from the metropalitan area. How might an eruption impact this populated area?

The "Big One" in Yellowstone National Park. America's largest volcano is stirring. Are we facing an eruption as devastating as a nuclear attack?

What concepts and issues will students encounter as they work through this module?

Geology There are three volcano types. Mt. Rainier represents a "strato," or composite volcano. The other two types are the "shield" volcano, such as Kilauea in Hawaii, and the "cinder cone" volcano such as Izalco in El Salvador.

Social Studies While it may be feasible to safeguard populations, social, political, cultural, economic factors have to be considered. Planners have to weigh the impact of restrictive measures in and about the volcano. For example, should building codes restrict new developments? Such measures are sure to hurt vested interests such as those of landowners or communities dependent on the tourist trade.

Earth Science Teachers who are interested in global warming and/or the Greenhouse Effect may direct students' attentions toward these areas. Volcanoes are known to emit millions of tons of ash containing high concentrations of sulfur dioxide. Volcanic eruptions are thought to have changed the earth's climate for years after major eruptions. Examples include Tambora in 1815 and Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.

Risk Management Information about how prepared the State of Washington is for a Mt. Rainier disaster might take quite a bit of research. Inferences might be made, however, from investigating how well the Mt. St. Helens eruption was handled by federal, state, and local officials. A similar event on Mt. Rainier, especially with the increased likelihood of significant flooding, would put disaster management to the test. Students should mention transportation, utilities, food, water, and medical facilities.

Mt. Rainier poses the following hazards:

  • Volcanic eruptions: the eruption of lava flows and tephra (particulate materials such as ash).
  • Edifice failure: the gravitational collapse of a portion of the volcano.
  • Glacier outburst floods: the sudden release of melt-water from glaciers and snowpack or from glacier-dammed lakes on the edifice.
  • Lahars, or debris flows, and debris avalanches: gravitational movement of water-saturated volcanic debris down the steep slopes of the volcano and into nearby valleys.

Preparation Checklist--have you thought of everything?

Creating a Working Problem Statement
To help students create a Working Problem Statement (WPS), you may want to pose some introductory questions such as the following:

New High School in Orting This scenario examines risk assessment of mud flows and glacial water outbursts associated with glacier-capped volcanoes. The module describes a real, ongoing situation. Students might want to directly contact students at the present Orting High School or city officials. To make their evaluation, students should consider statistics of mud flow and water outwash frequency and size, maps showing previous mud flows, the speeds of flows as indicators of warning times, geology and topography of Mt. Rainier, the origins of previous mud flows, the location of Orting relative to Mt. Rainier, the relation of mud flows to eruptions, and comparisons with Mount St. Helens mud flows.

Possible recommendations Build or do not build on the proposed site, build on a nearby site, or evacuate the area.

Materials supplied a) maps/images showing Mt Rainier, outflow channels, and Orting, b) tables/maps of various mud/water outflows, and c) data on risk factors for common insurable disasters such as the house burning down.

Volcanic Unrest in Paradise! This scenario emphasizes analysis of a small, effusive eruption that will require only limited action. Students might want to consider the nature of different kinds of volcanoes and eruptions, the nature of Hawaiian eruptions and why they are different from Cascade eruptions, effects of different sizes of eruptions, etc. This scenario is a simulation of a small eruption typical of the current cycle of activity at Kilauea that began in the early 1980s. Real, up-to-date information on lava flow and seismic activity on Hawaii can be found at the Hawaii Volcano Newsletter. Please note that the Hawaii Volcano Observatory has been in operation since the 1920s, and the scientists there are very competent at predicting eruptions and issuing warnings. In reality, they would not need an outside consulting firm to analyze their results.

Possible recommendations Evacuating potentially threatened communities, closing affected areas to the public, or doing nothing but taking some great pictures of an eruption.

Materials supplied A map of the big island of Hawaii, seismic and uplift maps and data, including set of seismic cross-sections extending down several kilometers.

A New Eruption in the Cascades? In this scenario students examine the possible effects of a major volcanic eruption. A Krakatoa-size event in the American Cascades would be a major disaster. The initial blast could literally destroy Portland and several towns along the Columbia river. The river itself would probably be dammed by giant rock avalanches and lava flows. Ash would probably bury the Richland area, and cover huge sections of the West, stopping all ground transport, possibly for weeks. There could be significant global climate effects over the following years. Such an eruption is a definite--though remote--possibility in the Cascades. Crater Lake in southern Oregon was formed by an eruption of this scale only about 6900 years ago.

Possible recommendations Students could recommend evacuation of as many people as possible for many miles around. The data supplied will be similar to that supplied for the Hawaii scenario, but the inferred size of the eruption will be hundreds of times greater.

Materials supplied Simulated seismic and uplift data (surface and cross-section) and locator maps of the area. These materials are included in the module.

The "Big One" in Yellowstone National Park This scenario simulates a cycle of eruptive activity at Yellowstone National Park. The indications implied by the simulated earthquakes and terrain uplift will be ambiguous, greater than seen in recorded history (the last hundred years or so), but much less than would be expected for a classic Yellowstone-scale eruption. To evaluate the significance, students will need to compare the volume of the current uplift (about 4 km3) with the volumes of earlier Yellowstone eruptions and other volcanic eruptions.

Possible recommendations The scenario may take the students in several different directions. A classic Yellowstone-scale eruption is so large that it would have major world-wide climatic effects: the central third of the U.S. would cease to exist; massive amounts of dust would circle the earth for years. Humanity has no direct experience with this size of an event, so extrapolation of the effects of known eruptions would be necessary. Such an eruption could lead to significant floral and faunal extinctions, so students' research might lead to discussion of the dinosaurs' extinction. The volcanic activity of the Yellowstone hotspot has been quasi-periodic over the last several million years, but the range of variability is so large as to preclude definite predictions. An element of uncertainty plays a large part in the work and conclusions of real scientists, but it is seldom dealt with in school activities. This scenario will require dealing with uncertainties.

Materials supplied Simulated seismic and uplift data; maps of the area and a detailed map of the "downstream" calderas to supplement available materials on the Internet. These materials are included in the module.

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Grade Level: 7-12

Resources for this module
Volcanic Hazards in Washington- A Growth Management Perspective

Teacher to Teacher Concept Maps for the Volcano Module

Volcano Information Gathering

Volcano Module Team Rubric


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