Teach the Earth > Geophysics > Teaching Activities > Volcano Homework Assignment

Volcano Homework Assignment

Steven C. Jaume
College of Charleston
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Jul 5, 2007


This assignment includes rank ordering lava flow data from Hawaii and using it to predict repeat times of lava flow areas. This and similar quantitative assignments emphasize power law frequency-magnitude relationships of geophysical phenomena.

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This in a mid-level (sophomore/junior) undergraduate natural hazards course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students need to have a basic understanding of how to use a spreadsheet and basic math skills.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is one of four homework exercises, all of which include at least one quantitative problem, usually involving the frequency-magnitude distribution of a natural phenomena.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students should be able to estimate the recurrence time of natural hazard phenomena of various sizes.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students need to be able to categorize (rank order) data and then quantitatively/graphically analyze it.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students should become familiar with using spreadsheets and downloading quantitative data from the Internet.

Description of the activity/assignment

In this and similar assignments students have to download quantitative natural hazard data from the Internet, load it into a spreadsheet, rank order the data, calculate recurrence times and plot the result on a log-log graph. They then interpret this graph in terms of the recurrence time of hazard events of different sizes. In many cases this includes comparing results from two different features (volcanoes, faults, rivers, etc.)
Uses online and/or real-time data
Addresses student fear of quantitative aspect and/or inadequate quantitative skills
Uses geophysics to solve problems in other fields
Addresses student misconceptions

Determining whether students have met the goals

The homework sets are returned for a grade. I also go over the solution after they are turned in, and discuss the assignment in class.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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