Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Magma Madness and an Experiment Gone Bust (Literally)

Once a month in our homeschooling co-op (Home Scholars), we study a country. This month (actually tomorrow), we'll be getting together to honor Korea.  In preparation for our group study, we are doing at-home projects, then we'll share them tomorrow with the other homeschoolers and parents. When I decide on our at-home project, each time I try to incorporate our regular studies so that Maggie is able to give the new material meaning.  For example, we had recently been learning about islands.  I thought that in our study of Korea, we could expand on our at-home study of islands by delving into the fact that South Korea is surrounded by about 3,000 volcanic islands. Thus, I decided we'd do our study on volcanoes and the formation of islands. Here is what we did:

In our learning about volcanoes, we read Usborne Beginners: Volcanoes by Stephanie Turnbull ... 
... and Volcanoes: Mountains That Blow Their Tops by Nicholas Nirgiotis.  Both were informative and easy to follow.
For our project itself, we decided to put together a few things on a couple of "project boards."  We found this great volcano model at and put it together.  (It shows both the inside and outside of a volcano erupting.)
Here is our model, completed!
Then, we got this 'Volcano Mini Book' from, colored it, and put it together to add to our project.
We also got the following worksheet from, with the parts of a volcano labeled.
After we finished with those, we put it all together for the first half of our "project board."  (Looks great, Mags!)
In looking for a neat idea for the second half of our volcano project (besides the ol' baking soda and vinegar bit), I had come across this "Storm in a Tea Cup" idea at, which uses heated wax, under sand, to illustrate how volcanoes erupt under the earth's surface.  (The photo below is from that site.)  
I thought this was a great idea since we were learning about how volcanoes form islands from beneath the surface of the ocean floor and this experiment used sand and water to simulate that.  UNFORTUNATELY, I don't think the site gave very good instructions (like how to heat the glass), and the little glass mug she used seemed innocent enough that I should feel safe heating my big, heavy-duty glass jar, right?  Right?  WRONG.  Here's how our little experiment went ...

First, we got all of our supplies together:  a glass jar (again, which I thought was much more substantial than the glass mug pictured above), sand, a piece of wax (we chose red to simulate the color of magma), and water.  (Yes, Stephanie, that is a Scentsy square.  I know you are cringing that this is what we're using it for, but I warn you that it gets worse, so don't scroll down!)
 First, place your wax piece centered at the bottom of your jar, like Mags is doing here.
 Then, add enough sand to your jar just to cover your piece of wax and be level all around.
 Once your sand is in place, add water to your jar, until it is almost full.
 And to make it fun (and more ocean-like), we decided to add a little plastic fish!
 Ok!  Ready to heat!
 We then put the jar directly on the burner on medium-high heat (which I read on a different site for a similar experiment since this site was not clear on the heating instructions).  It wasn't long before the heat found openings in the sand (just like a volcano finds cracks in the earth's surface), as you can see in this picture, right near the fish's fin.  (That's a small bubble coming up.)
 And then, as we peacefully watched, KABOOM!!!!  There was a loud crack, a pop, a spark, and suddenly, water was pouring into the burner!  We both screamed and Mags ran out of the kitchen as I struggled to turn off the stove.  NOT COOL.  This is what our jar looked like after the explosion.  (Can I say how bummed I am to lose this great jar we have in our supplies?!)  And I don't even want to tell you what that poor fish look like when he hit the hot burner!  Poor fish.  RIP, little guy.  (Good thing I did this at home instead of trying it for the first time tomorrow at our Home Scholars meeting!  How embarrassing would that have been?!)
Needless to say, I was discouraged.  And frazzled.  And feeling really stupid.  And fortunate that it exploded at the bottom and didn't shatter in our faces.  So, after lots of cleaning up, I got back on the computer and found the instructions at to be much more specific and helpful.  (He suggests using a heat-proof glass beaker for this experiment.)  Next time, I will be better prepared.  In the meantime, I await the smell of burning sand to dissipate.  [sigh]  I guess that's all in a day of homeschooling!  

There was nothing else to do but start on our volcano craft, which I snagged from  For the same, we crinkled up some brown construction paper, then rolled it into a cone shape before adhering it onto some cardboard, to make our volcano, below.  Then, we cut out scraps of yellow, red, and orange tissue paper and started to glue them to the top of our volcano's opening.
 We then added a cotton ball to that, and spread it thinly to simulate smoke.
 To add some pizzazz, we wrapped a flickering LED tealight with our tissue paper ...
 ... then stuck it on top of our volcano to make it look like it was smoldering!  (Maggie was quite proud of it!)
We added a couple of our plastic trees and animals to make a scene, and the second half of our project for tomorrow's presentation was complete!
See you again tomorrow with all things Korea!  :)


  1. Oh no! WOw :( I had a similar experience awhile back. I poured cold water into a hot glass pan in the oven...exploded. Yeah, tissue paper volcano much safer! :)

  2. These are great resources! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Thank you for putting this together with all the links! I was just looking to do volcanos next week in school with my kids.