Plate Tectonics Jigsaw
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
- Explain the concept of plate tectonics, including types of plate boundaries, the characteristics of "typical" boundaries, and the variability seen in boundary types
- Interpret the distribution of earthquakes and volcanoes on the earth
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
- Describe the difference between data and interpretation and analyze different interpretations of the same data
- Develop hypotheses based on incomplete datasets
Other skills goals for this activity
- Use and interpret spatial data
Description of the activity/assignment
The activity occurs in several sections, which can be completed in one or multiple classes. In the first section, students are divided into "specialist" groups, and each group is given a global map with a single dataset: global seismicity, volcanoes, topography, age of the seafloor, and free-air gravity. Each student is also given a map of plate boundaries. Their task in the specialist group is to become familiar with their dataset and develop categories of plate boundaries based only on their dataset. Each group then presents their results to the class.
In the second section, students reorganize into groups with 1-2 of each type of specialist per group. Each new group is given a plate, and they combine their different datasets on that one plate and look for patterns. Again, each plate group presents to the class. The common patterns and connections between the different datasets quickly become apparent, and the final section of the activity involves a short lecture from the instructor about types of plate boundaries and why the common features are generated at those plate boundaries. A follow-up section or class involves using a problem-solving approach to explain the areas that don't "fit" into the typical boundary types - intra-plate volcanism, earthquakes in the Eastern California Shear Zone, etc.
Determining whether students have met the goals
In addition, there are test questions later in the course where they are required to interpret a map they have never seen before and asked to characterize plate boundaries based on available data.
Download teaching materials and tips
- Activity Description/Assignment:
- Instructors Notes:
- Solution Set: There is no solution set for this activity.
- Plate boundaries (student handout 8.5 x 11) (Acrobat (PDF) 2.3MB Jan1 09)
Follow-up writing assignment to Plate Tectonics Jigsaw (Microsoft Word 40kB Dec31 08)
Global topography (36" x 60") (Acrobat (PDF) 39.3MB Jan2 12)
Global seismicity (36" x 60") (Acrobat (PDF) 9.1MB Jan2 12)
Global volcanoes (36" x 60") (Acrobat (PDF) 705kB Jan2 12)
Age of seafloor rocks (36" x 60") (Acrobat (PDF) 2.3MB Jan2 12)
Free-air gravity (42" x 60") (Acrobat (PDF) 8.4MB Jan1 09)
Plate boundaries (36" x 60") (Acrobat (PDF) 669kB Jan2 12)
Plate Tectonics I: Evidence for a Revolution
Plate Tectonics II: Plates, Plate Boundaries, and Driving Forces
Both readings are available at Visionlearning
During short lectures, I use maps created from UNAVCO's Jules Verne Voyager Junior, and I direct students there for the follow-up writing assignment as well:
Jules Verne Voyager, Junior interactive map, available through the efforts of the Education and Outreach team at UNAVCO