Teach the Earth > Geophysics > Teaching Activities > Earth Motion Monitor

Earth Motion Monitor

Charles J. Ammon
Penn State
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review 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 31, 2007


An activity based around the display near real-time seismograms in the classroom.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



I use this in all levels of courses - and introductory natural hazards course for non-science (~150) students, as well as smaller intermediate and advanced seismology courses. This activity is designed for a geophysics course, but can also be used to integrate geophysics into a core course in geology. This activity is also appropriate for an introductory geology course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The level can vary from minimal science background to advanced graduate students.

How the activity is situated in the course

In my introductory hazards course, I have two screens, so on one screen I can project a near real-time display of seismograms acquired from IRIS. Students can see the occurrence of earthquakes within minutes, before even formal locations are available. When something happens, we can discuss the situation.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Depending on the level of the students, the content goals are primarily simple reasoning - estimating a rough earthquake location using very simple principles (which station was closest, etc.).

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Simple reasoning for the basic level of interaction, more advanced characteristics of seismogram analysis in the more advanced courses.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

This activity is based around Macintosh software that I wrote to display near real-time seismograms in classrooms with projection systems and internet communications. I use the display in courses at all levels, from large non-science courses to advanced graduate courses in seismology. In my introductory course, I have been fortunate to have a room with two projectors and large screens. That allows me to display the seismic monitor on one screen and use the other for that day's material. In smaller advanced courses I often project the real-time display on one screen while I use the chalk board during that part of the class that I use to cover new material. Although you might think that it's rare that an earthquake would occur during any given class, that's not true (have the students estimates the odds using the Gutenberg Richter relation if you doubt it). If needed, you can load specific earthquake signals (say from the night before) to talk about it at the beginning of a class period. Activity that occurs during class often leads to interesting discussions of earthquakes and tectonics.

This activity uses online and/or real-time data, has minimal/no quantitative component, and can be used to address student misconceptions.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I use this tool for a grade, but only to show students how common earthquakes are, and how we use seismometers to study such events. I rely on feedback from students to know whether it is working.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

You can get the older version of this software from the IRIS software pages - formally, it is a DHI client. Or you can download it directly (the most up-to-date release) to one of my pages by clicking here.

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