Earth Science: Earthquakes Teacher s Guide

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1 Teacher s Guide Grade Level: 6 8 Curriculum Focus: Earth Science Lesson Duration: 3 class periods Program Description It may seem as if we re all on solid ground, but that ground is in constant motion, experiencing more than a million earthquakes a year. Earth s crust floats on tectonic plates that shift and collide, causing seismic activity. You can actually see the San Andreas Fault, which runs from Mexico to Oregon. It s a hotbed of study, where scientists use everything from seismographs to creep meters to measure the Earth s movement in the area. No one can predict earthquakes yet, but scientists are trying to at least be able to determine when large quakes are coming. Since millions live in quake zones, the best protection is to reinforce buildings so that they can withstand the shaking. One place to see the effect of earthquakes is the Himalayas, the five-mile-high mountain chain still being formed by the collision of the Asian and Indian plates. Discussion Questions What causes earthquakes? What are tectonic plates, and how does their movement trigger earthquakes? What are fault lines, and in what ways do the plates move at the faults? Define seismology, and describe some of the tools seismologists use to study earthquakes. What are some ways engineers seismically retrofit a building, and why is such retrofitting so important? What is Earth s highest mountain chain, how was it formed, and why is it of interest to seismologists today? Lesson Plan Student Objectives Understand the structure of Earth s crust and how that structure leads to earthquakes. Learn the placement of Earth s tectonic plates. Use actual earthquake data to plot seismic activity.

2 Teacher s Guide 2 Materials Computer with Internet access Print resources about earthquakes Procedures 1. The December 2004 tsunami should be fresh in students minds. The terrible waves resulted from a 9.0 earthquake in the Indian Ocean where the Australian and Indian plates meet. An explanation of the event and animation of how it happened is at the BBC News page The Tsunami Disaster Explained ( More information on the event is at the Wikipedia page 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake at 2. Supplement the tsunami information by visiting several other sites: Review with students information about Earth s tectonic plates, fault lines, and how movement of the plates triggers earthquakes. 3. Explain that students will research seismic activity in their state. There are only eight states that haven t had any major seismic activity in the past 30 years (Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin). If you live in one of these states, shift students study to a different state, or you may choose to focus on another part of the world that is more seismically active. The National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) at offers a wealth of information to help students look into the topic. Some of the site s specific pages that students will find helpful include: The Top Earthquake States Real-time Seismogram Displays of Earthquake Activity, which allows students to view actual data as it s observed at one of 20 stations worldwide Historical Earthquakes and Archives Regional Earthquake Websites

3 Teacher s Guide 3 4. Students should use the information they find to generate a statistical report about quake activity in the area you choose to study. Because seismic activity will vary by state, you will want to define the time period for your study. In California, for example, students will find a great deal of information in just the past year. In Virginia, you may wish to look at data for the past 30 years. In their report, each student should include: Number of quakes occurring in the time period you choose Average number of quakes per year Intensity range of quakes based on Richter scale measurements (lowest to highest) and what those measurements mean in terms of quake strength Map showing quake locations and magnitudes Summary of quake damage during the study period. Encourage students to look up newspaper articles or other media coverage of the events. 5. You may decide to end your study once the statistical analysis is complete. But if you live in a quake-prone area, an excellent follow-up activity is to have students find and download earthquake preparedness information that they can take home to their families. Such information can be found at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Best Practices page: Earthquake Preparedness: and Los Angeles County Fire Department s Earthquake Preparedness Handbook: Assessment Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson. Vocabulary 3 points: Students were highly engaged in class discussions; enthusiastically participated in an online review of seismic science; conducted thorough research and accurately completed all aspects of the statistical analysis. 2 points: Students participated in class discussions; participated in an online review of seismic science; conducted research and completed most aspects of the statistical analysis. 1 point: Students participated minimally in class discussions; conducted a cursory online review of seismic science; conducted minimal research and completed few aspects of the statistical analysis. epicenter Definition: The place on Earth directly above the focus of an earthquake Context: Earthquake damage can occur many miles from the epicenter.

4 Teacher s Guide 4 fault Definition: A fracture in Earth s crust in which both sides of the break may move relative to each other Context: Movements in Earth s crust creates tension along a fault until the rock on one side slips or breaks, creating an earthquake mantle Definition: The layer of the Earth between the crust and the core Context: Earth s tectonic plates float on the mantle. plate tectonics Definition: Scientific theory that Earth s crust is made up of large plates that fit together like puzzle pieces and are driven in different directions by forces deep within Earth. Context: Plate tectonics shows that movement of plates is what creates seismic activity. Richter scale Definition: A scale for measuring the magnitude of an earthquake Context: The earthquake that caused the 2004 tsunami measured 9.0 on the Richter scale. seismology Definition: The science of earthquakes Context: Although seismology has advanced greatly, seismologists still can t predict when earthquakes will strike. Academic Standards National Academy of Sciences The National Science Education Standards provide guidelines for teaching science as well as a coherent vision of what it means to be scientifically literate for students in grades K 12. To view the standards, visit this Web site: This lesson plan addresses the following national standards: Earth and Space Science: Structure of the Earth system Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K 12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit This lesson plan addresses the following national standards: Science: Earth and Space Sciences Understands Earth s composition and structure

5 Teacher s Guide 5 Mathematics: Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis Language Arts: Viewing Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media; Writing Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process, Gathers and uses information for research purposes; Reading Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts Support Materials Develop custom worksheets, educational puzzles, online quizzes, and more with the free teaching tools offered on the Discoveryschool.com Web site. Create and print support materials, or save them to a Custom Classroom account for future use. To learn more, visit Also find these Discovery lesson plans devoted to earthquakes: Constructing Earthquake-proof Buildings Earthquakes, a TLC feature Earthquakes: Getting Ready for the Big One Dangerous Earth Tracking Earthquakes Around the World Understanding Tsunamis

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