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Recipe For A Core
Learning To Take Scientific Notes

Grade Level




During the 1997-1999 Antarctic field seasons, scientists from Italy, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom traveled to the Ross Sea near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Their goal was to recover and analyze sediment cores from beneath the sea floor. The drill rig was set up on the Ross Sea ice near a small peninsula known as Cape Roberts, thus the project name is the Cape Roberts Project.

The cores were studied for two main reasons:

  • to find out how far back in time ice sheets on the Antarctic continent have been causing changes in global sea level
  • to date the rifting of the Antarctic continent in order to help understand the formation of the Transantarctic Mountains and the Ross Sea.

  • Grade Level/Discipline
    I use this activity with my fourth grade students, but it could be used with students at any level above fourth grade.

    In this lab, students will learn how to take field notes as scientists do, using a simulated sediment core, constructed with edible items. Students will use metric notations to mark changes in the sediments, objects such as fossils and glacial pebbles in the core sample, and to select a spot to sample. They will use a small round cookie cutter to obtain a cylindrical sample of the core.

    National Standards

  • Content Standard D: Earth and Space Science

  • Teacher Preparation for Activity

    Pre-activity set-up
    You must prepare the edible sediment core samples ahead of time. Use the PVC pipe (washed and dried out) or paper towel rolls lined with wax paper. Melt various shades of chocolate, one at a time, and pour into the PVC pipe molds to represent different layers of sediment. Make sure to vary the layers in each length of pipe. Continue this process until mold is full and chocolate is relatively smooth. Press shells into the mold while the chocolate is still soft to represent fossils. Use jelly beans and M & M's imbedded in the chocolate to represent small glacial pebbles and cobbles. Let the chocolate solidify the night before you plan to do this activity. Store in refrigerator.


  • overhead of science notes and key used in the Cape Roberts Project
  • overhead of the student data collection sheet
  • a length of PVC pipe approximately between 40 - 50 cm in length, cut in half lengthwise and sanded smooth on the edges (you could substitute a paper towel roll or wrapping paper tube, cut in a similar fashion and lined with wax paper
  • white, milk, and dark chocolate
  • jelly beans
  • M & M's
  • scallop shells (or some other shell that would make a good imprint)
  • map of Antarctica showing the Ross Sea area
  • For each group of 3-4 students:
  • meter stick & a shorter metric ruler
  • pencils for each student
  • toothpicks
  • plain white paper
  • data collection sheet
  • one length of PVC pipe filled with edible sediment core sample

  • Time Frame
  • 2 class periods (60 minutes each)

  • Teaching Sequence

    1) Use digital photographs of the core samples examined in the Cape Roberts Project to show students what scientists can study in geology. These can be accessed at:

  • tea.rice.edu/trummel/11.2.1998.html
  • tea.rice.edu/trummel/11.5.1998.html
  • tea.rice.edu/trummel/11.10.1998.html
  • tea.rice.edu/trummel/11.12.1998.html
  • tea.rice.edu/trummel/11.13.1998.html
  • tea.rice.edu/trummel/11.21.1998.html
  • The photographs show how scientists measure and mark sections of the core for further study, as well as the drill site and remote lab. If possible, print these photos in color and make color overheads that can be easily accessed.

    2) Use overhead of Cape Roberts science notes to show an example of how these notes would be taken. Use overhead of "key" to show the various symbols used in these science notes. Explain that for this lesson, you will be using similar, but fewer notations.

    3) Distribute student data collection pages, meter sticks and smaller metric rulers, plain white paper, and lengths of PVC pipe with edible sediment cores.

    4) Students will examine sediment core and make notations on their data collection sheet that describe the various types of sediments, fossils, and glacial pebbles and cobbles in their section of core. These will be completed using the scale on the collection sheet. 5 cm of core equals 1 cm on the data sheet.

    5) The teacher should circulate around the class to help with measurements, notations, and to answer questions. When the class period is over, collect all materials and edible core samples and store in a refrigerator until next class period. Each length of PVC pipe should be marked with the group member's names.

    6) In a subsequent lesson, students can finish taking notes if they didn't finish in first lesson. In addition, each student in the group will mark their sediment core with a toothpick/flag to indicate where they would like to take a small sample. They take that sample, using a small cylindrical cookie cutter.

    7) Students may eat their samples after examining them and after class discussion.


    After students complete data collection sheets, discussion should focus on what they learned about taking accurate field notes and how important this is for scientists.

    Betty Trummel, Husmann Elementary School, Crystal Lake, Illinois
    1998-99 TEA, Cape Roberts Project, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

    Please review this activity.

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