Investigating Plate Tectonics with Google Earth
This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection
Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review 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
For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.
This page first made public: Jun 1, 2012
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
- Short familiarization exercise with Google Earth (see below)
- The Math You Need module on unit conversions (module on rates may also have been appropriate).
How the activity is situated in the course
The activity is early in the first half of the course. It is the first larger assignment for credit. The understanding of plate tectonics gained in this exercise underpins the earthquakes and related hazards section of the course.
Prior to jumping into the assignment, the class has had a discussion (a gallery walk works well) about what they KNOW about plate tectonics and geohazards and what they WANT to know about these topics. We discuss how prepared (or generally underprepared) they feel to ensure the safety of themselves and their families/friends. It generally comes out that few students are confident about their understanding of the regions geology and hazards (other than very vague ideas about volcanoes and earthquakes). I highlight how plate tectonics is the binding theory that helps us understand the type of geology in so many parts of the world and it can help us be better prepared for geohazards and other geoscience issues.
I did teach this as part of a "flipped" course in which students had relatively little "lecturing" by me. They had outlines by me to help guide their readings but most of the time in class was spent in group activities and projects. However, I do not think that is necessary for this activity, which could also be done during a more standard lab period.
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Students will be able to:
- Define different types of plate tectonic boundaries by using data sets such as volcanoes, earthquakes, topographic and bathymetric profiles, and sea floor age.
- Apply known characteristics of plate boundaries to identify other boundaries and their frequency world wide.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
- Students will be able to analyze multiple geoscience data sets to determine the attributes at different types of plate boundaries.
- Given an unfamiliar boundary, students will be able to identify what type it is by analyzing its characteristics.
- Based on earthquake data, students will be able to determine which boundaries have the greatest earthquake hazard.
Other skills goals for this activity
- Students will be able to work successfully groups to produce a single final product.
- Students will be able to use basic Google Earth functions.
- Students will be able to support scientific statements with evidence and explanations (in writing).
Description and Teaching Materials
In the activity, students analyze data sets in Google Earth and work through a series of questions that help scaffold them through the task: determine the location and attributes of different plate tectonic boundaries around the globe.
The files below contain a Google Earth familiarization exercise, the main activity file, the associated Google Earth data files, and two animations.
- Getting started w/ Google Earth homework (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 57kB May15 12)
- Investigating Plate Tectonics with Google Earth assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 189kB Apr4 18)
- Google Earth data files and supporting animations (Zip Archive 33.7MB Apr4 18)
- ANSWERKEY Investigating Plate Tectonics with Google Earth assignment -- private instructor-only file
Teaching Notes and Tips
The currently attached assignment is revised from the single time I have taught with it. Overall, I do think the assignment was effective but there seemed to be some uncertainty about how detailed to make the answers, so I tried to be more explicit. I tried adding the final map that I ask them to annotate as a sort of summative visual assessment rather than the written questions I had previously.
Formative: During the course of the activity I circulated among the students asking question and keeping tabs on their progress and understanding.
Summative: I looked for correctness of answers on the assignment. The annotations on the various images were particularly helpful for revealing linger misconceptions. Similarly, the questions where students had to explain and defend their statements usually revealed whether they were understanding things as intended.
References and Resources
- Download Google Earth at: http://www.google.com/earth/index.html
- Teaching With Google Earth on the SERC website
- The animations associated with this assignment are not copyrighted and can be freely downloaded at http://emvc.geol.ucsb.edu/.
- Additional earthquakes can be downloaded from USGS Earthquake Search. Be sure to specify KML as your output format.
- UNAVCO has some cool plate tectonics- and hazards-related kmz files as well
The activity received original inspiration from existing SERC activities by Elizabeth Cochran (http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/geophysics/activities/19435.html) and Jeffrey A. Nunn (http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/geophysics/activities/25082.html)
This activity is a variation on an original activity, Discovering Plate Boundaries developed by Dale Sawyer at Rice University.
An alternative to my Google Earth intro exercise could be: Introduction to Google Earth by Liane M. Stevens