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Painted Desert Drama

The Earth’s rocks and soil contain scientific AND historical mysteries. Capture dramatic desert or canyon colors with Crayola® Markers on sandpaper.

  • Grade 3
    Grade 4
    Grade 5
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Directions

    1. Nature is on display around the world, including the Painted Desert in Arizona, near the Grand Canyon in the western United States. Wind and water erosion carve colorful mounds from wet bentonite clay (which swells and then collapses upon itself) and petrified wood. The result is layered earth tones with deep ridges that became smooth over time. Sunlight and shadows highlight the minerals found in the crevices--with wondrous results!
    2. Organize a variety of resources, text and electronic, focused on the Petrified Forest National Park, Grand Canyon; Africa's Kalahari or Saharan Deserts; Asia's Mongolian Gobi, or another dramatic geological area. Invite small groups of students to research one of these areas and study color photos. Group members discuss how each of these wonders formed over time.
    3. Ask groups to replicate the desert area they researched. Provide each group with a large piece of sandpaper. Demonstrate how to capture the layers of hues and shadows of the desert with Crayola Washable Markers. Encourage students to blend colors. Create ridges with more blending.
    4. To accompany the sandpaper replicas, student groups compose a summary paragraph reflecting their research. Have summary paragraphs accompany artwork when displayed.
  • Standards

    LA: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    LA: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    SCI: Use evidence to explain how the physical characteristics of local areas are affected by the processes of weathering and erosion, including the activities of living organisms.

    SCI: Obtain information about the locations of a variety of Earth’s features and map the geographic patterns that emerge.

    SCI: Use evidence to construct an explanation that some rocks and minerals are formed from the remains of organisms.

    SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.

    SS: Use appropriate resources, data sources, and geographic tools to generate, manipulate, and interpret information.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.

    VA: Use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate how factors of time and place influence visual characteristics that give meaning and value to a work of art.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: Rocks and Minerals by DK Publishing; The Rock Factory: The Story About the Rock Cycle by Jacqui Bailey; The Painted Desert: Land of Wind and Stone by Scott Thybony; Grand Canyon by Linda Vieira

    How does a forest of trees become petrified? Students research the roles of natural phenomena such as floods and volcanoes. What minerals and geological elements result? Do temperature highs and lows have anything to do with petrifying wood? If so, what?

    What is the National Park Service? Students research this institution, when it was formed, as well as what the original mission statement was for the Service. How many national parks does the Service care for? Create a map to show where these parks are located in the U.S. What are the challenges to the Service?

    Students investigate dangers to the Painted Desert, such as visitors who steal pieces of the park. How could the U.S. National Park Service prevent this?


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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