Digging Into the Past

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This activity (on pages 23-27) lets learners simulate the work of scientists who take core samples of Earth's rocky layers to determine geological history. Learners create a model of Earth's geological history with different colors of sugar layered into a cup, and take core samples of the sugar layers (strata) with a straw.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Model, Simulation

English, Spanish

Materials List (per group of students)

  • 3/4 liter brown sugar
  • 1/2 liter white sugar
  • 1 jar dark sprinkles
  • 1 small bottle each red and green food colors
  • 5 plastic spoons
  • 5 containers for the sugar mixtures (about 250 ml each)
  • one small opaque cup (150-200 ml styrofoam or paper)
  • 1 clear plastic straw
  • 1 set of colored pencils to match the layer colors
  • 1 paper plate
  • newspapers (to cover work space)


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Rocks and Minerals
    • Earth's History
      • Geologic Time

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities

Designed specifically for

  • Rural dweller

Culture, ethnicity, and gender

  • Girls

    • Explicity developed for this group


Foreign language versions of this resource:

Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • Science After School Consumer's Guide


  • All rights reserved, University of Nebraska State Museum and Nebraska 4-H, 2002

Funding Sources:

  • National Science Foundation Informal Science Education Program, 9909496
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute