Investigating Plate Tectonics with Google Earth
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
1) Short familiarization exercise with Google Earth.
2) The Math You Need module on unit conversions (module on rates would also have been appropriate). http://serc.carleton.edu/mathyouneed/index.html
(The need for this could be eliminated by removing the calculation questions from the assignment. I was using these exercises to underpin quantitative skills needed in later assignments.)
How the activity is situated in the course
The activity is early in the first half of the course. It is the first larger assignment for credit. The understanding of plate tectonics gained in this exercise underpins the earthquakes and related hazards section of the course.
Prior to jumping into the assignment, the class has had a discussion (a gallery walk works well) about what they KNOW about plate tectonics and geohazards and what they WANT to know about these topics. We discuss how prepared (or generally underprepared) they feel to ensure the safety of themselves and their families/friends. It generally comes out that few students are confident about their understanding of the regions geology and hazards (other than very vague ideas about volcanoes and earthquakes). I highlight how plate tectonics is the binding theory that helps us understand the type of geology in so many parts of the world and it can help us be better prepared for geohazards and other geoscience issues.
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Students will know the basic locations and frequency of different types of plate boundaries.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Given an unfamiliar boundary, students will be able to identify what type it is by analyzing its characteristics.
Based on earthquake data, students will be able to determine which boundaries have the greatest earthquake hazard.
Other skills goals for this activity
Students learn basic Google Earth functions.
Students supporting scientific statements with evidence and explanations (in writing).
Description and Teaching Materials
In the activity, students analyze data sets in Google Earth and work through a series of questions that help scaffold them through the task: determine the location and attributes of different plate tectonic boundaries around the globe.
The files below contain the main activity file, a Google Earth familiarization exercise, the associated Google Earth data files, and two animations.
If an instructor is interested in obtaining the answer sheet, they can email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com).
The activity received original inspiration from existing SERC activities by Elizabeth Cochran (http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/geophysics/activities/19435.html) and Jeffrey A. Nunn (http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/geophysics/activities/25082.html
This activity is a variation on an original activity, Discovering Plate Boundaries developed by Dale Sawyer at Rice University.
An alternative to my Google Earth intro exercise could be: Introduction to Google Earth by Liane M. Stevens
Google Earth data files and supporting animations (Zip Archive 32.8MB May15 12)
Getting started w/ Google Earth homework (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 57kB May15 12)
Teaching Notes and Tips
The currently attached assignment is revised from the single time I have taught with it. Overall, I do think the assignment was effective but there seemed to be some uncertainty about how detailed to make the answers, so I tried to be more explicit. I tried adding the final map that I ask them to annotate as a sort of summative visual assessment rather than the written questions I had previously.
References and Resources
Download Google Earth at: http://www.google.com/earth/index.htmlThe animations associated with this assignment are not copyrighted and can be freely downloaded at http://emvc.geol.ucsb.edu/.