Teaching Activities


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Exploring California's Plate Motion and Deformation with GPS | Lessons on Plate Tectonics
Students analyze data to study the motion of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. From GPS data, students detect relative motion between the plates in the San Andreas fault zone--with and without earthquakes. To get to that discovery, they use physical models to understand the architecture of GPS, from satellites to sensitive stations on the ground. They learn to interpret time series data collected by stations (in the spreading regime of Iceland), to cast data as horizontal north-south and east-west vectors, and to add those vectors head-to-tail.Students then apply their skills and understanding to data in the context of the strike-slip fault zone of a transform plate boundary. They interpret time series plots from an earthquake in Parkfield, CA to calculate the resulting slip on the fault and (optionally) the earthquake's magnitude.

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Engaging With Earthquake Hazard and Risk
This introductory activity engages learners in the study of earthquake hazards and the risk these hazards pose to humans in the communities in which we live. Learners will compare three maps of Anchorage, AK, depicting spatial information related to seismic hazards to generate questions about the factors that influence shaking intensity and damage to the built environment during earthquakes.

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Volcano Monitoring with GPS: Westdahl Volcano Alaska
Learners use graphs of GPS position data to determine how the shape of Westdahl Volcano, Alaska is changing. If the flanks of a volcano swell or recede, it is a potential indication of magma movement and changing ...

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Exploring Tectonic Motions with GPS
Using a map showing the horizontal velocities of GPS stations in the Plate Boundary Observatory and other GPS networks in Alaska and Western United States, students are able to describe the motions in different regions by interpreting the vectors resulting from long-term high-precision Global Positioning System (GPS) data. Show more information on NGSS alignment Hide NGSS ALIGNMENT Disciplinary Core Ideas History of Earth: HS-ESS1-5 Earth' Systems: MS-ESS2-2 Earth and Human Activity: MS-ESS3-2, HS-ESS3-1 Science and Engineering Practices 4. Analyzing and Interpreting Data 5. Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking 6. Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions Crosscutting Concepts 4. Systems and System Models 7. Stability and Change

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Alaska GPS Analysis of Plate Tectonics and Earthquakes
This activity introduces students to high precision GPS as it is used in geoscience research. Students build "gumdrop" GPS units and study data from three Alaska GPS stations from the Plate Boundary Observatory network. They learn how Alaska's south central region is "locked and loading" as the Pacific Plate pushes into North America and builds up energy that will be released in the future in other earthquakes such as the 1964 Alaska earthquake.

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Base Isolation for Earthquake Resistance
This document includes two activities related to earthquake base isolation. Learners explore earthquake hazards and damage to buildings by constructing model buildings and subjecting the buildings to ground vibration (shaking similar to earthquake vibrations) on a small shake table. Base isolation a powerful tool for earthquake engineering. It is meant to enable a building to survive a potentially devastating seismic impact through a proper initial design or subsequent modifications. The buildings are constructed by two- or three-person learner teams.

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Earthquake Hazard Maps & Liquefaction: Alaska emphasis
Ground shaking is the primary cause of earthquake damage to man-made structures. This exercise combines three related activities on the topic of shaking-induced ground instability: a ground shaking amplification demonstration, a seismic landslides demonstration, and a liquefaction experiment. The amplitude of ground shaking is affected by the type of near-surface rocks and soil. Earthquake ground shaking can cause even gently sloping areas to slide when those same areas would be stable under normal conditions. Liquefaction is a phenomenon where water-saturated sand and silt take on the characteristics of a dense liquid during the intense ground shaking of an earthquake and deform. Includes Alaska and San Francisco examples.

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Measuring Plate Motion with GPS: Iceland | Lessons on Plate Tectonics
This lesson teaches middle and high school students to understand the architecture of GPS—from satellites to research quality stations on the ground. This is done with physical models and a presentation. Then students learn to interpret data for the station's position through time ("time series plots"). Students represent time series data as velocity vectors and add the vectors to create a total horizontal velocity vector. They apply their skills to discover that the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is rifting Iceland. They cement and expand their understanding of GPS data with an abstraction using cars and maps. Finally, they explore GPS vectors in the context of global plate tectonics.

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Unit 2: Global Sea-Level Response to Temperature Changes: Temperature and Altimetry Data
What is the contribution of seawater thermal expansion to recent sea-level rise? In this unit, students create time-series graphs of global averaged sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) data spanning 1880–2017 ...

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Unit 2: Monitoring surface and groundwater supply in central and western US
In Unit 2, students learn how the techniques for water budgeting (covered in Unit 1) can be used to monitor both groundwater (High Plains Aquifer) and surface water (western mountain watershed) systems. Students ...

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Community Flood Risk Assessment from Rising/Surging Seas Project
Globally 634 million people, 10% of the world's population, live in coastal areas less than 10 meters above sea level. According to 2010 census data, 123 million people, 39% of the United States population, live in coastal counties with an estimated increase to this number by 8% in the 2020 census. As natural disasters have been seen to increase in frequency and severity in the past five years coupled with expected sea rises from climate change it is important that anyone involved with the safety and resiliency planning of their organization/community have an understanding of how to scientifically assess risk from flooding in order to mitigate and recover from the effects. This project allows students the ability to develop skills to utilize computer modeling systems and to apply the data to real world communities in examining risk to structures as well as different groups in the community.

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World Map of Plate Boundaries
The plate tectonics mapping activity allows students to easily begin to identify basic tectonic processes on a global scale. As students become aware of plate movements, they begin to identify patterns that set the stage for deeper understanding of a very complex topic. The activity uses a simple "Where's Waldo" approach to identify tectonic symbols on a laminated World Plate Tectonic map.

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Plate Tectonics: GPS Data, Boundary Zones, and Earthquake Hazards
Students work with high precision GPS data to explore how motion near a plate boundary is distributed over a larger region than the boundary line on the map. This allows them to investigate how earthquake hazard ...

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Unit 1: Climate Change and Sea Level: Who Are the Stakeholders?
How are rising sea levels already influencing different regions? This unit offers case study examples for a coastal developing country (Bangladesh), a major coastal urban area (southern California), and an island ...

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GETSI Developed This material was developed and reviewed through the GETSI curricular materials development process.
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Building Shaking —Variations of the BOSS Model
Building Oscillation Seismic Simulation, or BOSS, is an opportunity for learners to explore the phenomenon of resonance for different building heights while performing a scientific experiment that employs mathematical skills. They experience how structures behave dynamically during an earthquake.

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Earthquake Machine
In this activity, learners work collaboratively in small groups to explore the earthquake cycle by using a physical model. Attention is captured through several short video clips illustrating the awe-inspiring power of ground shaking resulting from earthquakes. To make students' prior knowledge explicit and activate their thinking about the topic of earthquakes, each student writes their definition of an earthquake on a sticky note. Next, through a collaborative process, small groups of students combine their individual definitions to create a consensus definition for an earthquake.

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Fault Models for Teaching About Plate Tectonics
This short interactive activity has learners to manipulate fault blocks to better understand different types of earthquake-generating faults in different tectonic settings--extensional, convergent, and strike-slip. Fault models aid in visualizing and understanding faulting and plate motions because the instructor and their students can manipulate a three-dimensional model for a true hands-on experience.

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Seismic Slinky: Modeling P and S waves
Students will produce P and S waves using a Slinky© to understand how seismic waves transfer energy as they travel through solids. All types of waves transmit energy, including beach waves, sound, light, and more. When an earthquake occurs it generates four different types of seismic waves. We will focus on two of these: Compressional-P (longitudinal) and shearing-S (transverse) "body waves." These travel through the Earth with distinct particle motion and predictable speed.

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Visualizing Relationships with Data: Exploring plate boundaries with Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and GPS Data in the Western U.S. & Alaska | Lessons on Plate Tectonics
Learners use the GPS Velocity Viewer, or the included map packet to visualize relationships between earthquakes, volcanoes, and plate boundaries as a jigsaw activity.

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Human Wave: Modeling P and S Waves
Lined up shoulder-to-shoulder, learners are the medium that P and S waves travel through in this simple, but effective demonstration. Once "performed", the principles of P and S waves will not be easily forgotten. This demonstration explores two of the four main ways energy propagates from the hypocenter of an earthquake as P and S seismic waves. The physical nature of the Human Wave demonstration makes it a highly engaging kinesthetic learning activity that helps students grasp, internalize and retain abstract information.

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