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Is the Coast Really Toast?:
A lesson about volcanoes, phase changes, and the art of estimation
Julie Pett-Ridge
2004-2005 Fellow

In this assignment, students are given the task of being Hollywood film consultants. In the 1997 movie Volcano, molten lava flows down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. To introduce the lesson, the teacher plays a short (~5 minute scene) from the movie in which the lava flow is stopped by Tommy Lee Jones organizing fire trucks and helicopters to spray or dump water at the leading edge of the flow. Students are asked "Is this scene realistic in terms of being able to cool off the lava enough to stop the flow?" Students work in teams to make assumptions and tackle a series of calculations to answer this open-ended question.

This lesson is designed to follow lessons regarding the concepts of heat, but it can be used without this background if the teacher is willing to introduce heat capacity to the class before starting the lesson. All the necessary background information, including definitions, equations and constants are in the materials provided.

Downloadable files:

Teacher's Guide

Student Variables

Student Evaluation




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