Teaching Activities


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Rocks are Elastic!! Seeing is Believing
IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology)
This activity helps learners see the elastic properties of rocks by actually bending marble. How rocks respond to stress is a fundamental concept, critical to forming explanatory models in the geosciences (e.g., elastic rebound theory). Whereas learners are likely to have lots of experience with rocks, few will have directly experienced them behaving elastically. As a result of this "missed experience", most learners conceptualize rocks as rigid solids; a concept which generally serves students well in everyday life but impedes learning about particular geologic concepts.

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Fault Models for Teaching About Plate Tectonics
Modified from an activity by Larry Braile (Purdue University) by TOTLE (Teachers on the Leading Edge) Project and further improved by ShakeAlert.
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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Earthquake Machine
IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology) and ShakeAlert
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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Human Wave: Modeling P and S Waves
IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology) and ShakeAlert
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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Seismic Slinky: Modeling P and S waves
IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology)
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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Earthquake Location: With real seismogram data
Anne Ortiz and Tammy Bravo (Science Education Solutions)
Students use real seismograms to determine the arrival times for P and S waves and use these times to determine the distance of the seismic station from the earthquake. Seismograms from three stations are provided to determine the epicenter using the S – P (S minus P) method. Because real seismograms contain some "noise" with resultant uncertainty in locating arrival times of P and S waves, this activity promotes appreciation for uncertainties in interpretation of real scientific data.

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Seismic Geohazards & Earthquake Hazard Maps: Alaska emphasis
TOTLE (Teachers on the Leading Edge), CEETEP (Cascadia EarthScope Earthquake and Tsunami Education Program), EarthScope ANGLE, and ShakeAlert projects
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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Build a Better Wall
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) and CEETEP (Cascadia EarthScope Earthquake and Tsunami Education Program). Improvements by ShakeAlert.
How can we design buildings to withstand an earthquake? This activity uses simple materials and gives learners a chance to experiment with structures that can withstand an earthquake. Two optional activities explore building damage by subjecting models to ground vibration on a small shake table.

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Base Isolation for Earthquake Resistance
Larry Braile (Purdue University) and TOTLE (Teachers on the Leading Edge) Project
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 Inventory & Mitigation Planning
Bonnie Magura (Portland Public Schools), CEETEP (Cascadia EarthScope Earthquake and Tsunami Education Program), and ANGLE Project
In this two-part activity, students/participants first: - Complete a Hazard Inventory for their city or area of interest in the event of a magnitude 7 or larger earthquake and tsunami. - Identify what critical structures and infrastructure will be affected. Then: - Write a summary statement assessing strengths and vulnerabilities of essential services or infrastructure. - Propose actions for mitigating vulnerabilities. - Create an Action Plan to address identified needs.

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Tsunami Vertical Evacuation Structures (TVES)
Bonnie Magura (Portland Public Schools), Roger Groom (Mt Tabor Middle School), and CEETEP (Cascadia EarthScope Earthquake and Tsunami Education Program)
Students learn about tsunami vertical evacuation structures (TVES) as a viable solution for communities with high ground too far away for rapid evacuation. Students then apply basic design principles for TVES and make their own scale model that they think would fit will in their target community. Activity has great scope for both technical and creative design as well as practical application of math skills. Examples are from the Pacific Northwest, USA's most tsunami-vulnerable communities away from high ground, but it could be adapted to any region with similar vulnerability.

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Signal processing and earthquake triggering
Jackie Caplan-Auerbach, Western Washington University
In this exercise, written for an undergraduate seismology class, students use MATLAB to analyze waveforms from the 2004 Sumatra M9.0 earthquake, as they were recorded on three seismic stations in Alaska. Two of ...

MATLAB Exemplary Collection This activity is part of the Teaching Computation in the Sciences Using MATLAB Exemplary Teaching Activities collection.
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Earthquake Hazards: The next big one?
John Taber, IRIS Consortium
In this activity, students explore of the concept of probability and the distribution of earthquake sizes, and then work to understand how earthquake hazards are described by probabilities. Students then work in ...

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Role playing the 2009 L'Aquila Earthquake and trial to debate responsibility for communicating and understanding risks and natural hazards
Amber Kumpf, Muskegon Community College
In this activity, students reenact key events leading up to and following the 2009 L'Aquila Earthquake and trial. This leads into a debate on responsibility for communicating and understanding risks and natural hazards.

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Earthquake Compare and Contrast Paper
Sarah "Sally" Zellers, University of Central Missouri
Students will write a research paper comparing the Sumatran (2004) and Tohoku (2011) tsunami generating earthquakes.

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