This is a comprehensive Earthquake curriculum covering three self-contained themes intended to be used individually with additional materials or as a complete unit. This unit is a collaborative effort between Deborah Kane, a doctoral geophysics student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Dave Van Dusen, a high school Earth Science teacher at the San Diego School of Creative in Performing Arts. These materials were designed to bring content from Deborah’s research into a 9th grade Earth Science course and could easily be adapted for other grade levels.

  • Students will look at locations and magnitudes of recent earthquakes in the U.S. and globally to gain a better understanding of where and how frequently earthquakes occur.
  • Students will also focus on reading maps and reviewing plate boundary types.
  • Students will learn details about a specific fault in southern California, including what size earthquake each is likely capable of having and when the last major rupture occurred.
  • Students will review the concept of friction, learn about elastic rebound and consider how a simple physical model relates to motion on a fault.
  • Students will learn what types of waves earthquakes generate, how these waves travel through Earth, and how seismologists record motion from earthquakes.
  • Students will learn how earthquakes are located and where earthquakes occur on Earth.
  • Students will review the concept of acceleration and the output of an accelerometer.
  • Students will learn to distinguish measurements of earthquake magnitude from intensity.
  • Students will learn which natural hazards relate to earthquakes and how these have affected people in past earthquakes.
  • Students will learn that seismologists cannot currently predict earthquakes in the short-term but can forecast where large earthquakes are likely to occur over many years.
  • This unit contains 9 lessons and activities totaling ~10 hours of classes. No exam is included.
  • The suggested lesson schedule is intended to leave open time for review, quizzes, or related educational activities.
  • Day 1: Introduction to Earthquakes and Interpreting USGS Seismicity Maps
  • Day 2: Introduction to Southern California Faults.
  • Day 3: Elastic Rebound (I).
  • Day 4: Elastic Rebound (II).
  • Day 5: This class day is left open for including additional materials.
  • Day 1: Earthquake Motion and Seismogram Basics.
  • Day 2: Introduction to the Quake-Catcher Network (QCN Lab).
  • Day 3: Determining Earthquake Locations.
  • Day 4: Magnitude and Intensity (QCN Lab).
  • Day 5: This class day is left open for including additional materials.
  • Day 1: Earthquake-related Hazards.
  • Day 2: Earthquake Forecasting and Prediction.
  • Day 3: Earthquake Safety (optional).
  • This activity was developed for use in a high school (grades 9-12) earth science class.
  • The goal of this lesson is for students to gain an understanding of where earthquakes occur, to learn about several historical earthquakes, to learn about local faults in southern California, to learn the concepts of elastic rebound and friction, to learn about seismic waves and seismograms, to learn the process of locating earthquakes using triangulation, to review where earthquakes are located with regards to plate tectonics, to learn how earthquakes are recorded, to learn the differences between magnitude and intensity, to understand that earthquakes pose hazards, to learn that earthquakes cannot currently be predicted, and finally to learn that seismologists can forecast which areas are likely to have large earthquakes over a lengthy future period of time.
  • Lesson duration are mostly 45 minutes.
  • Alternate scheduling suggestions are given below, in case the lessons can be thaught in blocks of 90 minutes.
  • Instructors can assess student learning through interaction in the classroom while the students complete the activity.
  • Student learning can be assessed using worksheet responses or through group presentations.
  • Week 1 - Day 1 (~90 minutes): Introduction to Earthquakes and Introduction to Faults
    Week 1 - Day 2 (~90 minutes): Elastic Rebound Lab
  • Week 2 - Day 1 (~90 minutes): Seismogram Basics and Quake-Catcher Network Lab
    Week 2 - Day 2 (~90 minutes): Earthquake Location and Review
    Week 2 - Day 3 (~45 minutes): Magnitude and Intensity
  • Week 3 - Day 1 (~90 minutes): Earthquake-Related Hazards, Forecasting and Prediction
    Week 3 - Day 2 (~45 minutes): Earthquake Safety Discussion
The curriculum’s introductory theme focuses on where and why earthquakes occur. Students should have previously covered plate tectonics and plate boundary types; review of these topics may be necessary while covering the following materials.
  • In this activity, students work alone or in groups to answer questions about recent earthquakes. The USGS maintains a website featuring maps of earthquakes that have occurred within the past week, as well as material about past earthquakes.
  • This activity requires students to interpret the seismicity maps, review the lists of earthquakes contained in the map, and relate the locations of mapped earthquakes to plate boundaries.
  • This activity teaches students about a specific fault in southern California, including what type of motion occurs on the fault and what size earthquake it is likely capable of producing.
  • The San Andreas Fault, San Jacinto Fault, and Elsinore Fault are included, but other faults could be easily incorporated when geographically relevant to the classroom.
  • This lab exercise teaches students about elastic rebound and friction and how these concepts related to earthquakes.
  • It can be done in small groups or as a classroom demonstration, with students recording data.
  • This is a 2-day activity.
  • The lab exercise from Day 3 is continued.
  • This class day is left open for including additional materials.
The second week of this unit focuses on seismic data. Lessons introduce students to the main types of seismic waves, how waves propagate through Earth and how seismologists record earthquakes and determine an earthquake’s location and size. Two of these lessons (labeled as QCN Labs) use inexpensive sensors that can be obtained by contacting the Quake-Catcher Network.
  • This activity exposes students to recordings of actual earthquakes and teaches them about the types of waves generated by earthquakes.
  • This activity reviews the concept of acceleration and then introduces students to a sensor that records acceleration.
  • The lab exercise leads the students through several exploratory questions and suggestions and ultimately asks them to consider what this sensor is used for outside of the classroom.
  • In this activity, students use synthetic and actual seismic data to learn how seismologists locate earthquakes.
  • The introductory and follow-up slides give a demonstration of how this is done (prior to students being asked to do it themselves), discuss the difference between the hypocenter (also known as the focus) of an earthquake and the epicenter, and cover the definition of a seismic gap with an example from southern California.
  • This activity describes the differences between an earthquake’s magnitude and intensity and then has students experiment with the Quake-Catcher Network sensor to explore these concepts.
  • Earthquake magnitude is a property of the earthquake itself, and does not change for a given earthquake regardless of where the earthquake is recorded. A measure of intensity describes the ground motion felt at a given location and varies spatially for a given earthquake.
  • This class day is left open for including additional materials.
The final week of this unit covers earthquake-related hazards, earthquake forecasting and prediction, and earthquake safety. Materials are provided for two lessons, leaving time for a review period and a unit exam at the end of the week.
  • This set of slides discusses earthquakes as a natural hazard in addition to other earthquake-related hazards and uses photographs to illustrate how these hazards affect societies worldwide.
  • The slides can be used alone or as an introduction for discussion of such hazards.
  • These slides discuss past attempts at earthquake prediction (at Parkfield, California), the current capabilities of forecasting, and the current 30-year forecast for California.
  • As a final lesson in this unit, we suggest a discussion of earthquake safety as related to your geographic location.
  • Use the above links including up-to-date information on how to prepare for an earthquake.

Earthquake Probability

Earth Surface Faults

Ground Motion

Landslides on Aerial Photograph
Lesson Materials
Related Earthquake Lessons
Lesson Specifics
  • Grade Level: 9-12
  • Time Frame: ~10 hours of classes
  • California Science Standard 3d: "Plate tectonics operating over geologic time has changed the patterns of land, sea, and mountains on Earth’s surface. As the basis for understanding this concept: Students know why and how earthquakes occur and the scales used to measure their intensity and magnitude."
  • California Science Standard 9b: "The geology of California underlies the state’s wealth of natural resources as well as its natural hazards. As a basis for understanding this concept: Students know the principal natural hazards in different California regions and the geologic basis of those hazards."

Southern California Fault

Tectonic Plate Boundary

ANZA Earthquake 2001
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