Education and
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at the Lunar and Planetary Institute
Explore! Mars: Inside and Out

Make a Volcano


Volcanos - Go with the Flow is a 30–45 minute activity in which teams of Geologic Scene Investigators, ages 8–13 create volcanos like those they have just examined on Earth and Mars. Using baking soda, vinegar, and Play-Doh, they model volcanic eruptions and older children can map the lava flows (optional). The children explore how volcanos grow, how later lava flows overlap earlier ones, and how earlier flows influence the paths of subsequent flows. They determine a volcano's history of eruptions based on the layering of different flows, and reflect on what the presence of volcanos means about a planet's interior.

This activity has been modified from Lava Layering, an activity in Exploring the Moon: a Teacher's Guide with activities for Earth and Space Sciences, NASA Education Product EG-1997–10–116-HQ by J. Taylor and L. Martel.

What's the Point?


For each child:

For each team of 3 to 5 children:

For the facilitator:



1. Share with the children that they are going to create three volcanic eruptions and examine how the lava flows! Each team of investigators will model three eruptions and observe how volcanos are created from flowing lava, what factors influence lava flows, and where the oldest and youngest layers of volcanic flows are positioned.

2. Have each team pour about 1/3 of the vinegar into their cup – the volcano caldera.

In this activity, the lava came from a cup. Where does lava really come from? Lava is molten — or liquid — rock that comes from inside the Earth. When it is inside the Earth, it is called "magma." When it flows at the surface, it is called "lava."

3. After the eruption, have the children trace around the general outline of the flow, and then blot (don't wipe!) up as much of the liquid as possible. Have them take one ball of Play-Doh, flatten it into a thin sheet, and place it on the area where the lava flowed, following the lava flow boundary marked.

You may wish to have children ages 10 to 13 map the different layers. If so, have them create a map of the flow on their paper that matches where their flow covered the grid on the poster board. Invite them to color the flow and create a key for the map. They will repeat this step for each flow.

4. Have the children repeat the lava flow procedure two more times, using different colors of Play-Doh to mark each flow. It is important to place the Play-Doh exactly where the lava flowed - even if it is on top of another flow!

5. When they have completed their three flows, invite them to examine their volcano.

6. Invite the teams to exchange volcanos.

7. Invite the teams to use the straw sections to collect core samples. Geologists collect cores to determine what is below the surface, how thick layers are, and how far layers may extend. Each team may choose 3 locations on their volcano from which to collect a core sample.

8. Once the teams have collected the core samples, ask them to share what they found.

If you have time, invite the teams to collect more core samples to see if they can map the layers.

If the children mapped the layers, have the team that created the volcano share their map with the team that is coring the volcano. Were the coring team's conclusions correct about which unit is the oldest? About where the different units are?


Have the children reflect on what they observed and the images from Mars and Earth. Invite them to record what they learned in their GSI Journals.