Earthquake Machine Demonstration

David Steer
The University of Akron
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  1. This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

    This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

    • Scientific Accuracy
    • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
    • Pedagogic Effectiveness
    • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
    • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

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  2. This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see

This page first made public: May 21, 2008


This classroom activity is a demonstration where students predict what will happen under various conditions. The "Earthquake Machine" shows relationships between stress, strain, friction along the fault and slip.

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Introductory earth science course for non-majors. It also works well in physical geology.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have some rudimentary understanding of friction and the processes associated with fault movement.

How the activity is situated in the course

This demonstration is integrated with a lesson earthquake mechanics and perhaps magnitudes.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Apply the principles of stress, strain and friction to predict movement for a simulated earthquake.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Predicting the slip is an analysis-level activity. Matching the various processes in the Earth to actions or components of the earthquake machine is synthesis level.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students work in groups to complete these activities.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students are expected to complete readings related to the mechanics of earthquakes (most don't do it). This activity allows them to apply the rules and extend their knowledge by making predictions.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students make predictions and answer the questions on the PPT using student response systems.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Supporting references/URLs

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