From Space to Earth: Meteor Crater

From Space to Earth: Meteor Crater is an inquiry-based middle school curriculum that takes students from observers to experimenters to educated participants in the investigation of the scientific processes of impact cratering. It has been piloted with twelve 8th grade classes at John Adams Middle School and is currently shared with teachers on the NSTA's NGSS curriculum hub.

Next Generation Science Standards

Lesson 1: Volcanic vs. Impact Craters

This lesson orients the students to the existence of impact craters in our solar system. Students study different craters on the Moon and Mars, applying the criteria for impact craters and volcanic craters. Through their exploration, students will realize how prolific impact craters are in our solar system and develop questions about why impact craters on Earth are less common or harder to see than impact craters on the Moon and Mars.


Teacher Activity 1
Student Handout 1
Teacher Key 1

Lesson 2: Where on Earth are Impacts?

This lesson introduces students to the hundreds of impact craters on Earth in a fun global competition. In their search for craters, students will broaden their scientific perspectives to the seven continents, a variety of target rocks, longitude and latitude, diameters, and age in millions of years.


Teacher Activity 2
Student Handout 2
Teacher Key 2

Lesson 3: Create Impact Craters

Following the trials of mining engineer, Daniel Barringer, this hands-on lab has students design their own experiments, creating their own impact craters in order to analyze how the mass, velocity, and angle of a projectile affects the size of the resulting crater. Working in small groups, students conduct and refine their experiments, gathering data and applying mathematical thinking to calculate the velocity, momentum, and kinetic energy of their projectiles from varying heights. Students then graph their results and analyze the trends.


Teacher Activity 3
Student Handout 3A
Student Handout 3B
Student Handout 3C
Student Handout 3D


Lesson 3 Extensions

Time permitting, there are fully developed lab extensions including creation and analysis of slow-motion impact videos, testing for rock layer disruption, and using a multivariable Earth Impact Effects Program to simulate impact events.


Creating and Analyzing Slow-Motion Impact Videos
Teacher Activity 3.1
Student Handout 3.1

Testing for Rock Layer Disruption
Teacher Activity 3.2

Experimenting with Impact Scenarios
Teacher Activity 3.3
Student Handout 3.3A
Student Handout 3.3B
Teacher Key 3.3A
Teacher Key 3.3B

Lessons 4: Battle for Impact Theory

This lesson leverages the students’ new knowledge about craters in a narrative of the scientific battle for impact theory that stretched from 1902 to the 1960s. Students analyze a scientific slideshow that follows the journey of Daniel Moreau Barringer in his quest for scientific acceptance and a financial windfall. The students tackle a scientific writing by an impact specialist, Dr. David Kring, that discusses all the key points about impact crater formation and identification and considers the strengths and weaknesses of different scientific theories.


Teacher Activity 4
Student Handout 4
Teacher Key 4

Lesson 5 Impact Craters - Final Assessment and Reflection

This lesson has the students reflect on all the big questions about impact craters and the scientific process.


Teacher Activity 5