Investigation of Newtonian Forces on Plate Tectonics
In this lab, students will investigate plate movements using models of clay, springs and balls. With two separate visuals, clay and atomic model structures, students will be able to imitate plate movements on a very small scale. Students write a lab report describing their results. Sample questions for lab analysis are provided.
Context for Use
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity
Grade Level: Middle (6-8)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Plate Tectonics
Description and Teaching Materials
-Set of atomic model springs and balls (at least 12 balls and 17 springs-colored)
-Soup can or rolling pin
-Clay, modeling, 4 colors
-8 1/2"X 11" sheets of plain paper
-Poster board (1 strip 5cmX 15cm)
Clay group: Use modeling clay of one color to form a long cylinder, and place the cylinder in the center of the glossy side of the poster board strip. Mold the clay to the strip. Try to make the clay layer the same thickness all along the strip; you can use the rolling pin or soup can to even it out. Pinch the sides of the clay so that the clay is the same width and length as the strip. Your strip should be at least 15 cm long and 5 cm wide. Flip the strip over on newspaper laid across your desk. Carefully peel the strip from the modeling clay. Repeat steps 3-5 with the other colors of clay. Each person should have a turn molding the clay. Each time you flip the strip over, stack the new clay layer on top of the previous one. When you are finished, you should have a block of clay made of four layers. Lift the block of clay, and hold it parallel to and just above the tabletop. Push gently on the block from opposite (long) sides. Use the colored pencils to draw the results of pushing the model. Use the terms syncline and anticline to label your diagram. Draw arrows to show the direction that each edge of the clay was pushed.
Model group: Using 12 balls and 17 springs, connect to make a 3 ball X 4 ball mat. This model should be in one plane (i.e. flat on the table). Trace this model onto sheets of paper on table. If possible, color the drawing to match the model colors. If you don't have colored balls, simply number the paper tracings 1-12. Partner one then places each of her hands on the edges of the model (as is done in the clay group) and pushes (applies force) towards the center of the model. Each hand should only move about two centimeters towards center. Partner two then traces the new ball position over the original drawing and labels the colors or numbers accordingly. After tracing, partner one applies additional force (approximately another two centimeters towards center) and another tracing is taken. If possible, repeat these steps with additional force.
Upon completion, have partners explain steps and procedures to small group. Compare and contrast clay model forces with ball-spring model forces. Have students complete the analysis questions and write a conclusion.
1. Draw a Venn diagram comparing/ contrasting the two models
2. What happened as force was applied to the clay model? To the ball-spring model?
3. Describe the difference between the forces applied to each. (Think: What size is each model representing?)
Conclusion: Summarize how the forces you applied to each model relate to the way tectonic forces affect rock layers. Be sure to include synclines, anticlines and compression.
This activity is adapted from "Oh, The Pressure!" by Daniel Bugenhagen, Yutan Jr-Sr High, Yutan, Nebraska. This lab is published in Holt, Reinhart, Winston Earth Science, 2005.