Is the Coast
about volcanoes, phase changes, and the art of estimation
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.