How To Build A Volcano: Education Worksheet

Video highlights from How To Build A Volcano

Junior and Senior Secondary

PROGRAMME TITLE    How to Build a Volcano

SCHOOL LEVEL    Junior Secondary and Senior Secondary


In 1980, America’s most infamous volcano – Mount Saint Helens – erupts, destroying the mountain’s north face in seconds and releasing thermal energy 1600 times greater than that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Devastating currents of debris obliterate everything and everyone in their path as they tumble down the mountain at more than 1000 km per hour. In an ambitious quest to find out what happens inside an active volcano, and in order to make more accurate predictions about the hazards they pose, a team of British, Canadian and American volcanologists conducts a breath-taking experiment, the scale of which has never before been attempted. With the help of a Hollywood crew, they design and build a four-storey high volcano then, in a series of spectacular eruptions, they use the model to test cutting-edge scientific theories.


Posing questions, planning and conducting experiments, and evaluating results are an inherent part of scientific studies. In How to Build a Volcano, a group of volcanologists joins forces with a team of Hollywood special effects maestros to build a huge model that mimics two very different ways real volcanoes erupt. Their goal is to see inside mysterious volcanic processes, shedding light on some of the world's most dangerous and unpredictable natural phenomena. The result is “Mount Boom”, a recreation of pre-1980 Mount Saint Helens, and the biggest model volcano ever built.

For years, scientists theorised that debris in pyroclastic flows – volcanic avalanches of hot ash, rock and gases ¬ – moves across terrain like water in a river. Our scientists plan to test this theory by erupting a deadly super-charged current of simulated volcanic ash from their four-storey model. One of their goals is to try to understand how pyroclastic flows interact with topography – do they slide over it, ride a cushion of air or blast off vertically?

The second experiment is even more ambitious: to replicate what happens deep inside volcanoes to determine what causes eruptions. The accepted theory is that magma rising from vast chambers within the volcano reacts to changing pressures by allowing trapped gases to escape as bubbles. The behaviour of the bubbles creates different types of eruption, from large single bubbles to massive lava flows. But how do gases dissolve in magmas, how quickly can they grow, and how fast can magma rise?

Follow the volcanologists as they visit Mount Saint Helens in Washington State and Italy’s Mount Stromboli, one of the planet’s most active volcanoes. Understand the challenges they face as they build their model volcano and share the thrill of discovering the answers to their scientific questions.


Junior Secondary Curriculum

In addition to its practical applications, learning science is a valuable pursuit in its own right, providing opportunities for critical and creative thinking, challenge and leisure. The science curriculum provides opportunities for students to experience the joy of scientific discovery and to nurture students’ natural curiosity about the world around them. These ideas resonate with the concept of scientific literacy, a term that is well established in the science education literature.
Australian Science K-10 Curriculum 2010: Rationale

Senior Secondary Curriculum

Building on students' science knowledge and skills acquired up to Year 10, the senior secondary Earth and Environmental Science curriculum provides opportunities for students to explore the contextual framework for understanding Earth’s origins and history, the variety of its natural physical environments and hazards, and the origin of its minerals and energy resources. Students examine the developments in, and current applications of, current understandings in earth and environmental science and evaluate the future impact of past and current human actions.
Australian Earth and Environmental Science Curriculum 2010: Rationale


Junior Secondary

In undertaking these tasks, students of Science will:

•    Develop an interest in science and a curiosity and willingness to explore, ask questions and speculate about the changing world in which they live
•    Develop an ability to investigate questions about the world using scientific inquiry methods, including questioning, planning and conducting experiments and investigations based on ethical principles, collecting and analysing data, evaluating results, and drawing critical, evidence-based conclusions.
Australian Science K-10 Curriculum 2010: Aims

Senior Secondary

In undertaking these tasks, students of Earth and Environmental Science will:

•    Draw on their curiosity and willingness to speculate about and explore the world to expand their interest in earth and environmental science
•    Engage in communication of and about earth and environmental science, value evidence and scepticism, and critically evaluate the scientific claims made by others
•    Appreciate earth and environmental science as both an independent and a collaborative human endeavour
•    Appreciate the changing and expanding body of contemporary knowledge in earth and environmental science.
Australian Earth and Environmental Science Curriculum 2010: Aims


Junior Secondary

Task 1
Use the Forces of Nature section of the Internet link given to find answers to the questions below. You will need to work through all of the tabs under the “volcano” icon to complete the tasks.

•    How did Ancient Greeks and Romans explain volcanic activity?
•    Write a sentence to define a volcano.
•    Approximately how many volcanoes are active today, or are known to have been active in historical times?
•    In what part of the world are the majority of volcanoes found?
•    What are three negative consequences of a volcanic eruption in a heavily populated area?
•    What are three positive consequences of volcanic eruptions?

Task 2
From Forces of Nature in the same website, explain in a couple of sentences how volcanic activity and plate tectonics are related.

Click on each of the different types of volcano illustrations. Name the five types, write a one-sentence summary to define each of them and use the map to help determine which one best represents Mount Saint Helens.

Task 3
The fourth tab in Forces of Nature illustrates and defines six different types of volcanoes. Read through each of the types and decide which of these Mount Saint Helens is. Choose two other types of volcanoes shown and write a sentence or two to explain two differences between each of them and Mount Helen.

Task 4
Write two paragraphs of about 50 words each to explain how volcanoes erupt. Make sure you include explosiveness and viscosity in your answer.

Task 5
Click on the ‘case studies’ tab and choose one of the six volcanoes shown, then answer the following questions:

•    What is the name of your volcano?
•    What type of volcano is it?
•    Where is it located?
•    What history is known about it?
•    Describe one of its eruptions in about 50 words.


Senior Secondary

Task 1
Draw a cross-section of a volcano marking each of the terms listed below, and write a couple of sentences to define each of the terms as they relate to volcanic activity:

•    Vent
•    Magma
•    Slug
•    Lava
•    Ash
•    Pyroclastic flow
•    Pumice

Task 2
Conducting scientific experiments generally involves four phases: proposing a hypothesis, testing it, analysing the results and drawing a conclusion. Choose one of the experiments from How to Build a Volcano and write one paragraph to describe each of the four phases. In your fifth and concluding paragraph explain whether or not the experiment was successful and why.

Task 3
Write 200 words about volcanoes. In your answer include the following points:

•    The relationship between volcanic activity and tectonic plates
•    How volcanoes form
•    Approximately how many active volcanoes there are globally
•    Where most of Earth’s active volcanoes occur and why

Task 4
There are six different types of volcanoes, defined by their composition and shape. These in turn are determined by the type of eruption and the kind of material ejected during an eruption. Draw up a table that shows the six categories, their shape, their composition, type of eruption, material ejected and name an example of each type of volcano.

Task 5
Volcanic eruptions have both positive and negative consequences. Identify five positive and five negatives impacts of volcanoes. Then, write a 100-word description of the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens, mentioning two specific positive and negative consequences.


Discuss this article


Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address