Teaching Activities

These teaching activities have a strong spatial thinking component. Search the collection to find activities suitable for your classes.



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Bouncing Ball Explorer
Duncan Carlsmith, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Exploration of the sound of a bouncing ball dropped on a hard surface, the sound recorded with a mobile phone or laptop microphone, is the basis for an accessible experiment in elementary mechanics. For ...

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Indiana River Meanders Mapping Exercise
Emily Zawacki, Arizona State University at the Tempe Campus
In Indiana, major rivers and their tributaries cross much of the state. These rivers can produce significant hazards related to flooding and erosion, which threaten nearby residents and infrastructure. Rivers are ...

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Using Carbon Isotopes in Astrobiology: Origin of Life and beyond
Phoebe Cohen, Williams College
Carbon isotopes are used in many different ways by scientists to reconstruct Earth's past. For example, we can use carbon isotopes to determine when life first evolved on Earth, and to learn more about what ...

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Student perspectives on climate discussions from the UN Conference of Parties (COP) via audio narrative
Laura Guertin, Penn State Brandywine
This assignment provides students a storytelling structure that allows for their own voice and creativity to be applied. This is accomplished through the selection of an audience for a recorded voicemail and the ...

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Construction of a Triangular Stability Diagram
Terri Woods, East Carolina University
An interactive powerpoint presentation walks students step-by-step through the process of generating a triangular diagram for the system K2O-Al2O3-SiO2. A Word document provides the thermodynamic data and ...

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Construction of a Korjinski Diagram
Terri Woods, East Carolina University
An interactive powerpoint presentation walks students step-by-step through the process of generating a Korjinski diagram for the system K20-Al2O3-SiO2. Students will use the triangular diagram from the previous ...

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OGGM-Edu Glaciology Lab 1: What Makes a Glacier?
Lizz Ultee, Middlebury College
This is a three-part class or lab activity that challenges students to define what a glacier is, how it differs from other parts of the cryosphere (such as sea ice), and what kinds of glaciers there are in the ...

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Episodic tremor and slip: The Case of the Mystery Earthquakes | Lessons on Plate Tectonics
Shelley Olds, UNAVCO
Earthquakes in western Washington and Oregon are to be expected—the region lies in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Offshore, the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate subducts under the North American plate, from northern California to British Columbia. The region, however, also experiences exotic seismicity— Episodic Tremor and Slip (ETS).In this lesson, your students study seismic and GPS data from the region to recognize a pattern in which unusual tremors--with no surface earthquakes--coincide with jumps of GPS stations. This is ETS. Students model ductile and brittle behavior of the crust with lasagna noodles to understand how properties of materials depend on physical conditions. Finally, they assemble their knowledge of the data and models into an understanding of ETS in subduction zones and its relevance to the millions of residents in Cascadia.

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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
Shelley Olds, UNAVCO
Learners use the UNAVCO 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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3D View from a Drone | Make a 3D Model From Your Photos
Shelley Olds, UNAVCO
Using cameras mounted to drones, students will design and construct an experiment to take enough photos to make a 3-dimensional image of an outcrop or landform in a process called structure from motion (SfM). This activity has both a hands-on component (collecting data with the drone) and a computer-based component (creating the 3-dimensional model).___________________Drones can take photos that can be analyzed later. By planning ahead to have enough overlap between photos, you take those individual photos and make a 3-dimensional image!In this activity, you guide the students to identify an outcrop or landform to study later or over repeat visits. They go through the process to plan, conduct, and analyze an investigation to help answer their science question.The Challenge: Design and conduct an experiment to take enough photos to make a 3-dimensional image of an outcrop or landform, then analyze the image and interpret the resulting 3-d image.For instance they might wish to study a hillside that has been changed from a previous forest fire. How is the hillside starting to shift after rainstorms or snows? Monitoring an area over many months can lead to discoveries about how the erosional processes happen and also provide homeowners, park rangers, planners, and others valuable information to take action to stabilize areas to prevent landslides.

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Detecting Cascadia's changing shape with GPS | Lessons on Plate Tectonics
Shelley Olds, UNAVCO
Research-grade Global Positioning Systems (GPS) allow students to deduce that Earth's crust is changing shape in measurable ways. From data gathered by EarthScope's Plate Boundary Observatory, students discover that the Pacific Northwest of the United States and coastal British Columbia — the Cascadia region - are geologically active: tectonic plates move and collide; they shift and buckle; continental crust deforms; regions warp; rocks crumple, bend, and will break.

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Measuring Plate Motion with GPS: Iceland
Shelley Olds, UNAVCO
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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Pinpointing Location with GPS Demonstration
Shelley Olds, UNAVCO
Using string, bubble gum, and a model of a GPS station, demonstrate how GPS work to pinpoint a location on Earth.Precisely knowing a location on Earth is useful because our Earth's surface is constantly changing from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tectonic plate motion, landslides, and more. Thus, scientists can use positions determined with GPS to study all these Earth processes.

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Converging Tectonic Plates Demonstration
Shelley Olds, UNAVCO
During this demo, participants use springs and a map of the Pacific Northwest with GPS vectors to investigate the stresses and surface expression of subduction zones, specifically the Juan de Fuca plate diving beneath the North American plate.

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Measuring Ground Motion with GPS: How GPS Works (Demonstration)
Shelley Olds, UNAVCO
With printouts of typical GPS velocity vectors found near different tectonic boundaries and models of a GPS station, demonstrate how GPS work to measure ground motion.GPS velocity vectors point in the direction that a GPS station moves as the ground it is anchored to moves. The length of a velocity vector corresponds to the rate of motion. GPS velocity vectors thus provide useful information for how Earth's crust deforms in different tectonic settings.

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Engaging With Earthquake Hazard and Risk
Jennifer Pickering
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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Frequency of Large Earthquakes
Jennifer Pickering
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.

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What's in the Water? Benchmarking Activity
Kelsey Bitting, Elon University
This short (15-25 min) writing activity asks students to respond to a series of prompts related to the content knowledge and societal issues explored in the "What's in the Water?" PFAS Contamination ...

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What's in the Water? Lesson 4: Drinking Water & Environmental Justice
Kelsey Bitting, Elon University
In this lesson from the "What's in the Water?" PFAS Contamination Unit", students explore equity in drinking water across the U.S. For homework, students read segments of two recent reports ...

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What's in the Water? Lesson 6: Drinking Water Quality Regulation in the U.S.
Kelsey Bitting, Elon University
In the sixth lesson of the "What's in the Water?" PFAS Contamination Unit", students learn about how drinking water quality and PFAS are regulated at the federal and state levels in the U.S. and ...

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