Monday, July 19, 2010

"We Need To Make A New Volcano"

Something is wrong with Woodland Park's world renowned volcano, the one we made nearly nine years ago under the steady guidance of Calvin, our resident volcano expert.

Three weeks ago we made a show of carrying it outside for a fiesta of eruptions, always one of our most popular group activities. We shook in a healthy dose of baking soda through a large funnel, added a nice squirt of liquid dish soap (to make for a frothier, longer lasting eruption), a squirt of orange liquid water color (because the lava we've seen in pictures looks orange), and then with much fanfare and flourish we poured in the vinegar, but only after passing it around so that everyone could have a sniff and say, "Ew!" or "Yum!" We whooped as the lava began to emerge from the vent, but then, after only a few seconds, it ended. Usually, our eruptions last for 5 minutes, at least.


So we went through the process again, but with the same disappointing results. That's when I decided to stick a chop stick (my tool for making sure all the baking soda gets through the funnel) into the vent and found that it could only be inserted a few inches before hitting something, not exactly solid, but definitely the cause of our problems. When I pulled the chop stick out it was tipped with a thick orange goo that we determined to be paint-tinted baking soda. The 2-liter soda bottle that serves as our magma chamber and conduit under all that paper mache was almost entirely full of 8 years worth of unspent baking soda, apparently impenetrable to mere white vinegar.

We tried turning the whole thing over and shaking it out, but it was clear to me that the weight of all that moist impacted powder was going to be enough to tear through our well-loved and well-used volcano's flanks, destroying it entirely.

Someone said, I don't know who, "We need to make a new volcano."

The next day when the children arrived they found this frame alongside a thin flour-water paste and newspaper:

By the end of the day, it looked like this:

It was a very thick first layer, very wet, but fortunately it was a hot day, so we left it in the sun to dry. On the following day, we added another layer to give it strong flanks:

There was a lot of talk about "boulders" amongst the children and if you look closely you'll see a small pile of them at the base of the slope.

The next day it was time to paint. We essentially swirled together primary colors until we got this wonderful eggplant-y shade:

The children, however, were not entirely satisfied, many of them feeling that it ought to be more brown and less purple, although others insisted that Mt. Rainier, the most prominent volcano regularly visible from our homes, did look purple in the distance.

Aesthetic differences aside, everyone was game for a bit more painting, so the following day we added another thick coat of paint:

One of the happy accidents that had made our original volcano so special was the addition of fistfuls of salt. I didn't have regular table salt at hand, only the coarser kosher salt, but it seemed like a distinction without a difference for our purposes. We salted and painted simultaneously:

I had to wedge a cork in the top because some of the 2-year-olds insisted on dropping their paint brushes into the vent.

This is how things now stand:

Holy cow, that looks good to me! I love the shape of our slopes and the surface has such a rich, complex color and texture.

I took the two volcanoes, old and new, and set them side-by-side in front of the class at circle time. We had a discussion about their differences and similarities. I then suggested that we would be ready for our first eruption once the paint was dry.

"It needs more boulders."

"What about the snow?"

"I want to put trees on it."

Oh this pains me, but I know we must press forward. I really love how it looks right now, but as is true with most of the art that gets created around here, it's just the phase of incredible beauty (in my eyes) that it must pass through on it's way to becoming something the children will call their own.

It's now been 2 weeks since the project began and still we've not erupted it. If we're going to add boulders, snow, and trees, I think we're looking at another week of work, at a minimum, before she's set to blow.

The longer it remains a work in progress the more it will be our own.

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Unknown said...

Good call. : ) The longer it remains a work of progress the more it will be your own. I love your words.

Marissa said...

Wow, thanks for this! We have built volcano after volcano, and I was not sure how to make the eruptions more impressive. The two liter bottle idea is fantastic!! :D

pink and green mama MaryLea said...

So completely awesome!! I want to build one too! : )

Christy Killoran said...

We love to make volcanoes. Ours have never been quite this elaborate though! Fun!

Unknown said...

Love, Love, Love (of course)!! I've been meaning to make a permanent volcano, but lacked the vision. I'm definitley going to use your framework...this is going into my blog favorites!

p.s. I never knew about the dish soap...great tip!

Marilyn623 said...

I see the 2 liter it merely strips of masking tape that is the underlying framework?

Once it is all completed to satisfaction, do you just add the ingredients each time you 'erupt?' I guess so, since you finally could erupt no more when you filled up to a point...

This sure beats the blob of playdough we've been using!

Teacher Tom said...

@Marilyn . . . Yes, that's just masking tape! I suppose you could shape something with chicken wire, but tape is sufficient.

We need to add new ingredients each time we erupt it. Obviously, there was a little baking soda left over after each eruption until the bottle was nearly full. It might have helped if I'd tried draining it upside down each time . . . Still, it took 8 years to become nonfunctional, however, so not bad. I'm starting to think we'll just start making a new one each year. Maybe we'll eventually have an entire volcanic mountain range with extinct, dormant and active vocanoes.

@Jessi . . . When you use the dish soap, it slows everything down so you might think it isn't working at first, but if you look down into the vent you should see the foamy orange lava slowly rising to the top, then will ooze down the sides of the volcano for quite some time. The kids like to put things like "little people" in the lava's path and watch them get swallowed up. When we want an explosive eruption I just use Diet Coke and Mentos -- that shoots a good 12 feet in the air!

Noah said...


So awesome and so weird - we made a volcano in our class today too.
I'll take photos and post them tomorrow.

mel said...

awesome! i homeschool my six year old and four year old. they would love this! adding it to my list of things to create. :)

Deborah Stewart said...

What a great problem solving activity and how beautiful it is turning out to look as well! I could never create this!

GianneCurry said...

So fun! I love the volcano project. Perhaps we might copy your idea for the frame and more elaborate top. It kind of builds the excitement for the big explosion. =)

Barbara Zaborowski said...

Making the volcano is definitely part of the fun. I'd make a new one every year and hide the old ones, at least until after the new one is made. Otherwise the old ones become the models for the new one.

Scott said...

I feel your pain - loving how it looks now and not wanting to "mess up" how it looks. I had the same experience with our large marble/ball painting this week. But, in the end, it is theirs and however it looks in the end is "right."

Deb said...

Someone once told me that the 'art' of parenting was knowing the moment to whip the paper away so they didn't put any more on it. I quietly thought that was sad, I like your quote much better!

We're all about the eruptions here, so we do our volcanoes in the sandpit Build a mountain from the sand, add sticks and leaves and voila! Not as permanent but we also get to talk about erosion.

Juliet Robertson said...

Several years ago, we did a similar thing at a very small school in the Highlands. As I had a wider age range (3-12yr olds) we went for contour mapping our local hill and turning that into a model volcano...and the modelling took weeks, but the result was great and hung around the pre-school for several years.

Another fun thing to do is to model local landscapes through the Earth's history or through the last ice age. This means LOTS of models and an ongoing project!

Oh the potential!

Lise said...

I love your last line: "The longer it remains a work in progress the more it will be our own." We've been working on making boats for a few weeks now, and have yet to take them to the river, their intended destination. They've all past that point where I thought they were perfect and have become more and more the children's own.