Seismogram Patterns

Charles J. Ammon
Penn State
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I assign this homework on the first day of class, after discussing the nature of science and mathematics, and the integral role of patterns in scientific discovery. The specific goal is to have students carefully observe the patterns in seismograms, before we being a detailed investigation of the physics of seismic waves excitation and propagation.

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I use this in a 400-level course during the discussion of the nature of science and as an introduction to the fundamental observations in seismology - seismograms. Student observations are discussed during the next class meeting. Designed for a geophysics course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

No skills other than an attention span, curiosity, and willingness to discuss their observations in class.

How the activity is situated in the course

I have a similar in-class patterns exercise on seismicity patterns that students work on an we discuss before I assign this as homework. I have a poster-sized version that I can bring in and refer to throughout the course, as we explore the features of seismograms more deeply.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The content goals are to introduce students to features in modern seismic observations (long periods in this case).

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The description of seismograms by students with little introduction to the subtleties of the waveforms requires that the students search their existing vocabulary to describe the patterns that make up most seismograms. Identifying seismogram patterns usually requires exercising the concepts about waves.

Other skills goals for this activity

Class discussion skills - working as a group to create a list of observations from a set of data.

Description of the activity/assignment

I assign this homework on the first day of class in my junior-senior level earthquake seismology course. The goal of the first class meeting is a discussion of the nature of science and mathematics, and the integral role of patterns in scientific discovery. I encourage students to discuss the observations with each other, with their friends, with anyone that they want. I have several goals for the assignment, including reinforcing the importance of patterns in science, and the relationship between science and mathematics, which is the study of abstract relationships and patterns. The other goal is to have students discover the features of seismograms on their own, before I point them out to them. I hope that makes them more receptive to our discussions of the physics underlying these observations, which occur throughout the course. Assessment is not based on an individual performance, but rather on how the students work together the next class meeting to create a substantial list of their observations, which also helps introduce discussion into the course early in the semester.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The goal is not an individual grade for each student. The next class students are asked to construct a list of observations based on the seismograms provided. I assess how they do during the discussion.

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