Kīlauea Volcano

Kīlauea Volcano: Be a Volcanologist

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Public attention was captured in May 2018 when the Hawaiian volcano Kīlauea erupted with rivers of lava that flowed through Leilani Estates and other nearby neighborhoods. Your students may have seen videos of hot lava covering roads, destroying homes, or reaching the ocean with clouds of hot steam. You can capitalize on their interest by using data from this real-world event.

In these middle school lessons, students take on the role of volcanologists in order to analyze geologic data about the May 2018 eruption of Kīlauea and provide recommendations for mitigating its harmful effects.


A new eruption of Hawaiʻi’s Kīlauea volcano began in early May 2018 following changes in geologic activity. The eruption produced volcanic hazards that effected residents of the area and changed the landscape of the island.


How do scientists monitor volcanoes in order to predict hazards and keep the public safe?


The lessons are correlated to middle school standards including the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), and Florida Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for Science. The objectives of the lessons focus on natural hazards with an emphasis on recognizing patterns, interpreting data and gathering evidence.


This series of lessons is based on the 5E model of engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.

Lesson 0: About Volcanoes

Students explore the different types of volcanoes, distinguish between active, dormant, and extinct volcanoes, and work with a team to classify volcanoes into these categories. If your class has already explored earth science concepts related to volcanoes, you may opt to skip Lesson 0.

Download Lesson 0
Lesson 1: Monitoring Hawaiʻi Volcanoes

This lesson takes place in the months and days immediately prior to the Kīlauea eruption. Students analyze data about earthquakes, sulfur dioxide, and deformation in order to predict any changes in volcanic activity and make safety recommendations to the public.

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Lesson 2: Monitoring the Kīlauea Eruption

This lesson takes place during the first few days of the eruption that began on May 3rd. Students analyze thermal images, photographs, maps of the area, and a graph of the lava lake level in order to describe the progression of the eruption, identify hazards to the public, and make recommendations to keep people safe.

Download Lesson 2
Final Project: Hazard Response Plan

In this culminating task, students work with a team to create a Volcanic Hazard Response Plan in a format of their choosing. Students may create a pamphlet, short television program, or mock web page. Their plan should address the monitoring, predictions, and recommendation responses that they have worked on throughout the unit.

Download Final Project


For more information about volcanoes and the Kīlauea eruption, visit the following:

  • USGS About Volcanoes
    This page on the United States Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program website provides background information about volcanoes, including definitions, scientific explanations, and basic statistics.
  • USGS Volcano Hazards Program
    The United States Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program monitors and studies volcanoes, conducts research, and communicates findings and alerts to authorities and the public. The website provides news, activity alerts, warnings, monitoring information, multimedia, and more. Focus is on volcanoes within the United States.
  • Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program
    This website provides a database of current and archived reports of global volcanic eruptions from the last 10,000 years. Features include a volcano search and a weekly volcanic activity report.
  • USGS Kīlauea Status Report
    This page within the USGS Volcano Hazards Probram website provides current alerts and updates about the Kīlauea volcano. During periods of heightened activity such as the May 2018 eruption, updates are added daily.
  • USGS Kīlauea Multimedia
    This page within the USGS Volcano Hazards Program website provides photo and video chronology of the May 2018 eruption of Kīlauea volcano. The latest photos and videos are posted with explanations, and an archive search features provides access to previous media.
  • IRIS Measuring Deformation and Tilt with GPS
    IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology) is a group of institutions that gathers, manages, and distributes data about earthquakes and related hazards such as volcanic activity. Its website offers a variety of educational resources, including this deformation animation that demonstrates how tiltmeters and GPS can be used to monitor deformation on a volcano.
  • Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense Alert Archive
    The County of Hawaiʻi website hosts this archive of previous alerts posted to their Civil Defense Messages and Alerts page. The page also includes a link to current alerts.
  • FEMA.gov Kīlauea Eruption
    FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Association) is a U.S. government agency that helps people before, during, and after disasters. This web page focuses on the eruption event at Kīlauea beginning on May 3, 2018. It provides information about federal assistance for affected residents as well as news releases, fact sheets, links to state resources, and more.


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