This unit contains 5 lessons, and is intended for a 9th grade earth science or science classroom. It should take about 1.5 to 2 weeks to cover. Its goal is to lead students to the concepts of plate tectonics through observations of seismic-related natural hazards and disasters. These lessons will focus on how and why these hazards/disasters are caused, how they affect humans, and require students to provide and construct various engineering solutions to mitigate damage from these events in the future. This unit could also be used after learning about the basics of plate tectonics; in this case, it can be used to delve further into plate tectonics and how plate tectonics affect humans and the surface of the earth.

  • Lead students to form their own hypothesis regarding plate tectonics through investigation of past natural disasters and their locations.
  • Through hands-on activities, students construct their own explanation for the spatial and temporal occurrence of natural hazards and how these affect society.
  • Students investigate underlying causes of these natural hazards, and demonstrate an understanding of how transport of energy via mechanical waves can affect us.
  • Design solutions to engineering problems we face due to natural hazards.
  • Large earthquakes can occur anywhere.
  • The potential damage is the same for all natural hazards.
  • Various types of stress are the actual types of faulting.
  • Tsunamis are breaking waves, and are caused by wind or the earth rotating.
  • Surface waves are aftershocks.
  • Earthquakes hurt people by shaking the ground (not via building collapse).
  • Earthquakes and tsunamis can be predicted.
  • We cannot engineer structures to mitigate damage from earthquakes or tsunamis.
  • There are 5 lessons in this unit. Each of the lessons involves hands-on activities with worksheets or instructions, and each also has a PowerPoint for either activity guidance or lecture content. 5E charts are provided for teacher guidance as well. Students will research past natural disasters (lesson 1), work with foam fault blocks to understand stress and faulting (lesson 2), test ocean waves vs. tsunami wave properties in a wave tank (lesson 3), learn about seismic waves, how they affect us and test seismic engineering solutions (lesson 4), and learn about and test mitigation efforts for tsunamis (lesson 5).
  • This lesson focuses on past seismic-related natural hazards/disasters that have occurred on the earth, and teaches students make observations about patterns in their location, and in the damage they cause. Slide 2 of the PowerPoint should be shown to students, the other slides are meant for the teacher as notes and to guide discussion.
  • Other materials: One map or globe per group of students. Paper for print-outs. Students will start and keep two lists throughout the unit: the “observations list”, and “damage caused list”. They will start their map or globe as well.
  • This lesson teaches students about stress in the earth’s crust, and the three types of faulting. After this lesson, they will understand what type of stress causes what type of faulting, and will begin to connect these stresses/types of faults to the various plate boundaries. The PowerPoint is meant as a teacher’s guide for classroom discussion, but slide 2 is meant to be shown to students.
  • Other materials: 3 rectangular foam blocks (approximately 5 inches long, 3 inches high, and 2 inches deep. Other sizes will work). 6 blocks if you wish to set up two sets of stations. Paint, knife for cutting foam blocks, paper for print-outs.
  • Here, students will learn about the causes and characteristics of Ocean Waves and Tsunamis, and how to distinguish between them. They will perform a hands-on activity to measure these characteristics, and investigate the damage caused by tsunamis, and the patterns they notice around the globe using the events they researched in Lesson 1. The PowerPoint is meant to help teachers guide classroom discussion and learning, not to show. Slide 2 however, is meant to be shown to students.
  • Other materials: Long, clear tank or plastic bin – at least 3 feet long, preferably narrow (about 4 or 5 inches wide), String (about 12 inches long), 2 pieces of wooden or plastic board, approximately the width of the tank and about 4 or 5 inches long, Duct Tape, Foam – it is important to use foam for the engineering exercises later on, Fan, Weights for the foam, like a rock.
  • This lesson covers the basics of earthquakes – how they are formed, what types of seismic waves they create and how that energy is dispersed through the earth, how to interpret a seismogram – and then requires students to use this new knowledge to determine how to mitigate damage from earthquakes. It finishes with a shake table project, in which students design and build a structure that is tested on a “shake table”, and then a discussion of what students themselves can do to stay safe in the event of an earthquake. The PowerPoint is meant mostly as a teacher’s guide for notes and discussion – however slides 4 through 7 should be shown to students.
  • Other materials: Paper for print-outs. (18 inches x 13 inches or similar), tape. Optional: One deep baking tray (9 inches x 13 inches), at least 10 racquet balls and 3 squash balls.
  • Materials per group: One slinky, 10 ten inch long wooden skewers, 10 six -inch long wooden skewers, 15 large gumdrops.
  • The last lesson of this unit walks students through mitigation of tsunami damage. It discusses early warning systems, tsunami engineering solutions, and allows students to test some of these solutions in the wave tank. The PowerPoint is meant to help teachers in guiding the lesson and discussion/questioning, but slides 3 and 5 should be shown to students.
  • Other materials: Wave tank (as seen in wave tank demo) several sheets of paper, about 7 toothpicks per group, a few popsicle sticks.
  • This unit is intended for a 9th grade science or earth science classroom. For a class of about 30 – 40 students, this unit will probably take about two weeks to teach – one hour for lessons 1 – 3, and at least 2 hours for lessons 4 and 5, maybe more. The lessons are designed to build upon each other, so they must follow in consecutive order. If necessary, an extra class on plate tectonics can be added between lessons 3 and 4. Students will produce a descriptive map of past natural disasters that will allow them to visualize plate boundaries; they will design and build structures to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis, and write building codes for California or other regions with a high risk or earthquakes or tsunamis.
  • Prerequisites:
          - Students should have some knowledge of mechanical waves and their properties
             (anatomy of a wave, mechanical waves transfer energy through a medium, their
             speed is dependent on the medium through which they travel).
          - Students should know how to interpret bathymetry (i.e. what colors are deep, what
             colors are shallow water).
          - Students should know how to plot latitude/longitude coordinates on a map.
          - Students should have a basic algebra background (i.e. given speed and distance,
             calculate time).
  • Each lesson provides some way of assessing the students. The mode of assessment is described in the 5E documents as well as in the PowerPoint slides.
  • Lessons 4 and 5 will culminate with building structures to test on a shake table or in a wave tank, and will also entail writing a detailed building code. There is a rubric for the building code for Lesson 4 that describes in detail the requirements – this can be graded to show students’ understanding of the structures they built that worked and why. It will also allow teachers to see if they understood what locations are at the greatest risk for a large earthquake.
  • Each lesson has detailed teaching notes in the PowerPoint, and in the 5E document. Overall, this unit should be approached via the impact these natural disasters have on society. Plate tectonics changes the surface of our earth and can affect our society via these natural disasters. Understanding the significance of these hazards/disasters is key in providing an impetus for students to learn more. These lessons build upon each other, so it is also important to draw on each past lesson to reinforce the material learned there.
  • HS-ESS2-1: Develop a model to illustrate how Earth’s internal and surface processes operate at different spatial and temporal scales to form continental and ocean-floor features.
  • HS-ESS2-2: Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth's surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
  • HS-ESS3-1: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.
  • HS-ETS1-1: Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
  • HS-ETS1-2: Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
  • HS-ETS1-3: Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
  • HS-PS3-2: Develop and use models to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as a combination of energy associated with the motions of particles (objects) and energy associated with the relative positions of particles (objects).
  • PS3.A: Definitions of Energy.
  • PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer.
  • ESS2.B: Plate Tectonics and Large-Scale Systems Interactions.
  • ESS3.B: Natural Hazards.
  • ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems.
  • ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions.

National Geographic Tsunami Japan

San Francisco 1906

Lesson Specifics
  • Grade Level: 9th grade earth science or science classroom
  • Time Frame: 1.5-2 weeks

Scripps Pier

Roger Revelle
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