Plotting Earthquakes with near real time data

William Slattery
Wright State University
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Students access the United States Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Center at and plot the longitude latitude and depth of earthquakes on a physiographic chart.

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This activity is useful in any class that teaches the concepts of plate tectonics. I have used the activity especially successfully in courses for pre-service K-12 teachers. The pre-service teachers report using the activity with K-12 students.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students merely need to know how to plot longitude and latitude on a physiographic chart to begin the activity.

How the activity is situated in the course

The activity is ongoing for several weeks. Beginning early in the course, once each week during class students plot earthquakes on their physiographic chart and gradually the plate tectonic plate boundaries emerge from the data over a period of several weeks.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

I want students, especially pre-service teachers, to understand the nature of scientific evidence and that such evidence is used to develop scientific models. The students engaging in this activity build their own versions of the classical plate boundary figure in textbooks and can explore questions such as the thicknesses of continental and oceanic crust and inter-plate earthquakes based on the data they plot.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students must evaluate the evidence for earthquakes defining plate margins along the boundaries of tectonic plates and evaluate the mechanism for earthquakes that occur within the plates themselves.

Other skills goals for this activity

Map reading, plotting longitude and latitude and building knowledge of geographical place names are developed as a result of this activity. Students also gain skill in searching the internet, collecting and analyzing data, then working in groups to present the results of their work.

Description of the activity/assignment

This activity only requires access to the internet to link to the United States Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Center website and a physiographic chart of the world that has longitude/latitude. Several scientific supply houses sell such physiographic charts. Students plot weekly earthquake data from the NEIC website for several weeks, then work in groups to explain the results.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Evaluation is based on group presentations

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

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