On the Cutting Edge - Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
Teaching Geophysics in the 21st Century
Topical Resources
Cutting Edge > Geophysics > Teaching Activities > Driving forces of plate tectonics and the importance of inertia

Driving forces of plate tectonics and the importance of inertia

Donald Forsyth
,
Brown University
Author Profile

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 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 page first made public: Jul 31, 2007

Summary

Simple in class calculations showing that inertia or momentum is completely unimportant in considering the driving forces of plate tectonics

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Context

Audience

This has been used both in introductory physical geology course for general science students and in more advanced course for geology/geophysics concentrators Designed for a geophysics course Designed for an introductory geology course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

None

How the activity is situated in the course

Part of a lecture on plate tectonics, prelude to the concept that forces acting on plates must balance

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

Inertial terms or momentum completely unimportant when considering what controls plate motion

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Making simple back-of-the-envelope calculations to test an idea

Other skills goals for this activity

None

Description of the activity/assignment

To demonstrate how unimportant inertia is in plate tectonic problems, as part of a lecture, we calculate momentum and moment of inertia of both a supertanker and a plate. A supertanker running into a dock will do more than a million times more damage than a plate. This activity addresses student misconceptions and has a small quantitative component.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Concept tested on an exam. Students remember this example for years, demonstrating its effectiveness at getting the concept across.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

See more Teaching Activities »