Magnitude vs. Intensity: An Application of the Science Writing Heuristic for Physical Geology

Friday 2:30pm-2:50pm TSU - Humphries: 221
Teaching Demonstration Part of Friday Teaching Demos


Larry Collins, Longwood University


This demonstration will provide an example of how to help students establish a scientific question that will lead them through an investigation of the difference between magnitude and intensity. Second, we will work on a formative assessment strategy for evaluating peer-peer dialogue in class , and I will share examples of summary writing exercises that are useful for assessing student learning at the group and individual level.


In science, we pose questions, make claims, gather evidence, and engage in argumentative dialogue! This activity illustrates a strategy that instructors can use to engage students in argumentative peer-peer dialogue in class. It begins with a scenario of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and the 2004 Sumatra Earthquake to help students develop a question worthy of investigation, employ primary data to facilitate dialogue among students, and end with a summary writing activity. The intended outcome is for students to be able to enrich their data interpretation/analysis skills, while also being able to find appropriate evidence that supports claims that they are making.


This activity is most useful for introductory physical geology students, but can be adapted to meet the needs of high school students. I integrate this activity when I am first introducing the concepts of magnitude and intensity in earthquakes during a unit on plate tectonics as a unifying theme in geology.

Why It Works

This activity offers the unique opportunity for students to negotiate ideas in order to reach a stronger conceptual understanding of magnitude and intensity. It also offers the opportunity for students to engage in authentic scientific practices (i.e. argumentation) outside of a traditional laboratory environment. By participating in these scientific practices, it also helps improve student conceptions of the nature of science.

Presentation Media

Magnitude vs. Intensity: An Application of the Science Writing Heuristic to Physical Geology (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) PRIVATE FILE 4.5MB Jul19 19)