You're as Cold as Ice!
Lesson Overview

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Grade Level: 9-12

Time Allotment: Two to three 45-minute class periods

Overview: We don’t often think about glaciers in our everyday lives, even though their effects are all around us. Glaciers have played a large role in shaping the world around us, from the large boulders in Central Park to the rolling hills of Ireland to Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. For hundreds of thousands of years, the movement of glaciers has shaped land through erosion and deposition, creating landforms such as U-shaped valleys, drumlins, horns and arêtes, moraines, and kettle lakes. Currently, glacial retreat is implicated in the Earth’s changing climate patterns and may have a great impact on sea levels and weather cycles.

In this lesson, students learn how glaciers and glacial movement have affected the Earth through a series of Web interactives and hands-on activities. They learn fundamental information and terminology regarding glaciers and glaciation, and will then complete an activity using model glaciers to simulate effects on the landscape. Students then use video segments and satellite images to identify the effects of glaciation in various parts of the world. Lastly, they review current theories about cycles of climate change and relate them to glaciers and ice sheets existing today.

Subject matter: Earth Science\Glaciations\Erosion

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to:

  • Define key terms pertaining to glaciers and glaciation;
  • Describe the formation process of glaciers and glacial motion;
  • Explain several ways in which glaciers erode the land;
  • Describe features of glacial deposition and explain how they occur;
  • Recognize features of glacial erosion and deposition on landscapes;
  • Explain the relationship between glaciers/ice caps and climate patterns.


National Science Education Standards

Earth and Space Science

CONTENT STANDARD D: As a result of their activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop an understanding of

  • Energy in the earth system
  • Geochemical cycles
  • Origin and evolution of the earth system
  • Origin and evolution of the universe

Students find that the geologic record suggests that the global temperature has fluctuated within a relatively narrow range, one that has been narrow enough to enable life to survive and evolve for over three billion years. They come to understand that some of the small temperature fluctuations have produced what we perceive as dramatic effects in the earth system, such as the ice ages and the extinction of entire species. They explore the regulation of earth’s global temperature by the water and carbon cycles. Using this background, students can examine environmental changes occurring today and make predictions about future temperature fluctuations in the earth system.

Interactions among the solid earth, the oceans, the atmosphere, and organisms have resulted in the ongoing evolution of the earth system. We can observe some changes such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on a human time scale, but many processes such as mountain building and plate movements take place over hundreds of millions of years.


Earth Science Core Curriculum

STANDARD 1: Students will use mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry, and engineering designs, as appropriate, to pose questions, seek answers, and develop solutions.


Key Idea 1: The central purpose of scientific inquiry is to develop explanations of natural phenomena in a continuing, creative process.

STANDARD 4: Students will understand and apply scientific concepts, principles, and theories pertaining to the physical setting and earth science recognizing the historical development of ideas in science.

Key Idea 2: Many of the phenomena that we observe on Earth involve interactions among components of air, water, and land.

Performance Indicator 2.1: Use the concepts of density and heat energy to explain observations of weather patterns, seasonal changes, and the movements of Earth’s plates.

2.1r Climate variations, structure, and characteristics of bedrock influence the development of landscape features including mountains, plateaus, plains, valleys, ridges, escarpments, and stream drainage patterns.

2.1s Weathering is the physical and chemical breakdown of rocks at or near Earth’s surface. Soils are the result of weathering and biological activity over long periods of time.

2.1t Natural agents of erosion, generally driven by gravity, remove, transport, and deposit weathered rock particles. Each agent of erosion produces distinctive changes in the material that it transports and creates characteristic surface features and landscapes. In certain erosional situations, loss of property, personal injury, and loss of life can be reduced by effective emergency preparedness.

2.1u The natural agents of erosion include:

Glaciers (moving ice): Glacial erosional processes include the formation of U-shaped valleys, parallel scratches, and grooves in bedrock. Glacial features include moraines, drumlins, kettle lakes, finger lakes, and outwash plains.

Mass Movement: Earth materials move downslope under the influence of gravity.

2.1v Patterns of deposition result from a loss of energy within the transporting system and are influenced by the size, shape, and density of the transported particles. Sediment deposits may be sorted or unsorted.



NATURE, Ireland, selected clips:

Clip 1, “Forming the Burren”

This clip describes how glaciers eroded the bedrock of Ireland’s landscape.

Clip 2, “Glaciated Landscape”

This clip shows the many different features and effects of glaciers in Ireland.

Access the streaming and downloadable video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

Web Sites:

Our Environment: Glaciers
This interactive describes valley and continental glaciers and gives an in-depth explanation of the features of the glaciers and their effects on the landscape.

Life Cycle of a Glacier
This interactive from NOVA shows how a single snowflake makes it to the bottom of a glacier.

New York Satellite Images – Satellite Photo Map
This map contains satellite image of New York State.

Milankovitch Cycles – Interactivity – MSN Encarta
This interactive explains the three periodic variations in the Earth’s orientation toward the Sun, which are believed to cause cyclical changes in climate.

Earth science reference table for Regents exam


For each student:

For each pair/group:

  • Computer with Internet access
  • 5 oz. play dough (homemade or purchased)

For the class:

  • Computer with Internet access, projector, and screen
  • TV and DVD player
  • Materials for model glaciers (to be constructed by teacher)
    • Dirt/gravel mixture (approximately 1 tablespoon per student)
    • Ice cube trays (enough for each student in the class to get one cube)
    • Water (enough to fill ice cube trays)
  • Organizer Answer Keys:
    • Glacier Overview Answer Key (PDF) (RTF)
    • Life Cycle of a Glacier Answer Key (PDF) (RTF)
    • Milankovitch Cycles Answer Key (PDF) (RTF)
    • Effects of Glaciers in New York State Answer Key (PDF) (RTF)


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video clips and Web sites used in the lesson.

Download the video clips used in the lesson to your classroom computer, or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

Make copies of Earth Science Reference Table, page 8, for each student in your class.

Make copies of all student organizers for each student in your class.

Prepare model glaciers for students by following these steps:

  1. Prepare mixture of dirt and gravel. Particles should be of different sizes. You will need approximately one tablespoon of the mixture for each student in the class.
  2. Add mixture to ice cube trays. Each ice cube slot should be filled about halfway with the mixture.
  3. Fill trays with water.
  4. Freeze overnight.

Next: Proceed to Activities

  • Ana Thompson

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  • Lindsey

    THANK YOU! This is a well planned lesson on glaciers. I will certianly start using your website mroe often and again thanks alot!!!

  • Nijara Herndon

    This lesson was so helpful i looked forward to this activity. THANK YOU very much

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