Sculpting the Earth - CA - 6th Grade

Science and art can solve an environmental problem because with science we can figure out the problem and with art we can communicate with people about what the problem is.
— Nathan, Maime Towles Elementary 6th Grader

Sculpting the Earth focuses on the various types of geologic change to the Earth’s crust. Students become geologists and learn about how plate movements cause earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain formation. They learn about how rivers are formed, how boulders are weathered down into pebbles, and how humans are accelerating erosion of the earth’s topsoil. In addition to a half-day field study at a local natural area, we provide three, 90-minute classes supporting the Sculpting the Earth curriculum. 

This unit is backwards designed from Common Core and Next Generation Science State Standards for sixth grade and includes pre- and post- student assessments. To supplement the lessons taught by Sierra Nevada Journeys, you will also have access to our extension curriculum which includes a pre-unit lesson, extension activities for the in-school and field-based lessons, and a post-unit lesson to wrap up the program. 

Lessons Overview

LESSON 1: Changes Beneath Our Feet

During this 90-minute classroom lesson, use maps, diagrams and images, to look for clues to explain why earthquakes happen in some places and not in others. Students construct an understanding of plate tectonics, including the plate movements that cause earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain formation and seafloor spreading.

LESSON 2: River Carvers  

At this 90-minute classroom lesson, students investigate why some rivers carve deep canyons, like the Colorado River, while others are wide with various channels carving shallow paths in valleys, like the Sacramento River. Through a hands-on investigation, they change variables in an attempt to create a deep, canyon-cutting river, and in the process come to an understanding of erosion, sediment and deposition.

LESSON 3:  Geologists in the Field  

This 3.5-hour field study at a beautiful natural area, students use their observation skills to explore the outdoors and document evidence of weathering and erosion — as a real and natural process — in the field.


Students work together to determine the scale and rate of change for different types of geologic changes in this 90-minute classroom lesson. They come to understanding that human causes of erosion happen much faster than natural causes. Students learn about a “neighborhood development proposal” for the field site they visited, and use critical thinking and teamwork to develop arguments for and against the proposal in a classroom debate.


To book Sculpting the Earth, just click on the link below and complete the informational form. When prompted to choose grade/program; please select 6th – Sculpting the Earth.

Return to all Classrooms Unleashed Programs page to see the school districts we serve in California.

Teacher information


  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.7

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7


  • MS-ESS2-2: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how different geoscience processes have changed Earth’s surface at varying time and spatial scales.

  • SEP: Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

  • DCI: Earth’s Materials and Systems

  • CC: Scale Proportion and Quantity