Pathway 2: Plate Tectonic Setting

Where and why do earthquakes happen?

Essential Questions

  • Where do earthquakes occur on earth, and why?
  • What controls the frequency, magnitude and depth of earthquakes?

Essential Understandings

  • Earthquakes occur near plate boundaries and where there is volcanism or other tectonic stressors (i.e. fracking)
  • Globally there are many small earthquakes and fewer large earthquakes
  • Deeper earthquakes are possible at subduction zones

Activity Pathway

Glossary of activity types (ex. Introductory, Inquiry, etc.) (Opens in a new window.)

Primary Activities

World Map of Plate Boundaries
The plate tectonics mapping activity allows students to easily begin to identify basic tectonic processes on a global scale. They begin to identify patterns that set the stage for deeper understanding of a very complex topic.
                      Introductory    |    Hands-on  |    Collaborative
Fault Models for Teaching About Plate Tectonics
Learners manipulate fault blocks to better understand different types of earthquake-generating faults in different tectonic settings. Fault models aid in visualizing and understanding faulting and plate motions.
                              Introductory    |    Hands-on
Earthquake Machine
Learners work collaboratively in small groups to explore the earthquake cycle by using a physical model of plywood and sandpaper. The model works well for inquiry-style investigations and project-based learning.
                              Inquiry    |    Hands-on   |    Collaborative

Supplementary Activities

Frequency of Large Earthquakes
Using the IRIS Earthquake Browser tool, students gather data to support a claim about how many large (Mw 8+) earthquakes will happen globally each year. This activity provides scaffolded experience downloading data and manipulating data within a spreadsheet
                               Introductory    |    Data    |     Virtual
Exploring Rates of Earthquake Occurrence
Using the IRIS Earthquake Browser, students explore the rate of earthquake occurrence. After compiling their data for various sized earthquakes, students calculate reoccurrence intervals for each magnitude, plot the data, and discuss societal implications.
                              Data    |     Virtual
Exploring Tectonic Motions with GPS
Learners study plate tectonic motions by analyzing Global Positioning System (GPS) data, represented as vectors on a map (online or paper). By observing changes in vector lengths and directions, learners interpret whether regions are compressing, extending, or sliding past each other.
                              Introductory    |    Data    |     Virtual