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

    For more information about the peer review process itself, please see https://serc.carleton.edu/teachearth/activity_review.html.

This page first made public: Aug 12, 2008

Death and Destruction

The lab activity described here was created by LuAnn Dahlman of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

Summary and Learning Objectives

Students search for images and video that illustrate the dangers that hurricanes pose to property and life. They consult Morbidity and Mortality Reports to find the common causes of death attributed to hurricanes and to discover the challenges to counting deaths attributed to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Students explore hazards from storm surge, high winds, and inland flooding and outline a plan that would prepare them to survive a hurricane.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • describe the dangers to life and property posed by hurricanes;
  • interpret reports to list common causes of death attributed to hurricanes;
  • explain the difficulties in making an accurate count of deaths attributed to Hurricane Katrina;
  • interpret the graphical results of a computer model of a storm surge and compare it to a simple physical model;
  • prepare an outline for being prepared to safely survive a hurricane.
Open the Student Lab »

Context for Use

This lab could be completed any time within the hurricane sequence. It could be assigned to pairs of students in a computer lab or as homework if students have sufficient Internet connectivity. Alternatively, the lab could be presented using one computer with a projector, complemented by hard copies of the reports that students read. An optional hands-on activity requires awareness of safety issues related to electricity and water; the activity could be shown as a demonstration or omitted.

Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

In Part A, students search for photos and videos of hurricane damage. Links to known sources of these resources are posted in the student activity. Students also skim reports from the Centers for Disease Control: they consult the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports for Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Floyd, and Hurricane Katrina. They also access reports of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes and consider factors that affect these statistics.

In Part B, students peruse NOAA's Hurricane Preparedness Pages to explore hurricane hazards and outline a safety plan. They also examine results of a computer model of a storm surge.

Printable Materials

  • Activity Sheet (PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 89kB Jan28 08) and Word (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB Aug7 18))

Teaching Notes and Tips

It is a good idea to enforce a strict time limit on the searching for hurricane photos and videos, or students may spend all their time on that task. By asking them to choose a favorite or two of the ones they've seen, you'll come up with a list of good links that you can post.

The Morbidity and Mortality Reports may be upsetting to some students. While the content is not gory or sensationalized, the topic is still death. Use your best judgment to prepare your students appropriately for this assignment.


You can assess student understanding of topics addressed in this Investigation by grading their responses to the Stop and Think Questions.

State and National Science Teaching Standards

Investigation and Experimentation Standards

1. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other four strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:
  • 4. Formulate explanations by using logic and evidence.
  • 7. Recognize the usefulness and limitations of models and theories as scientific representations of reality.
  • 8. Read and interpret topographic and geologic maps.
  • 10. Recognize the issues of statistical variability and the need for controlled tests.
  • 13. Investigate a science-based societal issue by researching the literature, analyzing data, and communicating the findings.

Applicable Massachusetts Science and Technology Standards (PDF - 1.3 Mb)

Earth and Space Science - Scientific Inquiry Skills

SIS1. Make observations, raise questions, and formulate hypotheses.

  • Observe the world from a scientific perspective.
  • Pose questions and form hypotheses based on personal observations, scientific articles, experiments, and knowledge.
  • Read, interpret, and examine the credibility and validity of scientific claims in different sources of information, such as scientific articles, advertisements, or media stories.

SIS4. Communicate and apply the results of scientific investigations.

  • Review information, explain statistical analysis, and summarize data collected and analyzed as the result of an investigation.
  • Use and refine scientific models that simulate physical processes or phenomena.

Applicable New York Core Curricula

Physical Setting/Earth Science (PDF - 135 Kb)

  • Standard 2 - Information Systems
    Key Idea 1: Information technology is used to retrieve, process, and communicate information as a tool to enhance learning.
  • Standard 6 - Interconnectedness
    Key Idea 2: Models are simplified representations of objects, structures, or systems used in analysis, explanation, interpretation, or design.
  • Standard 7 - Interdisciplinary Problem Solving Key Idea 1: The knowledge and skills of mathematics, science, and technology are used together to make informed decisions and solve problems, especially those relating to issues of science/technology/society, consumer decision making, design, and inquiry into phenomena.

Applicable North Carolina Earth and Space Science Standards

Personal and Social Perspectives Strand

Students will acquire the ability to assess natural and human induced hazards - ranging from relatively minor risks to catastrophic events with major risk, as well as the accuracy with which these events can be predicted. It is particularly important for students to relate such phenomena to North Carolina and its citizens.

Applicable Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)

112.44. Environmental Systems.

(c) Knowledge and skills:
(3) Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to:
(A) analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.

112.49. Geology, Meteorology, and Oceanography.

(c) Knowledge and skills:
(1) Scientific processes. The student is expected to:
(A) demonstrate safe practices during field and laboratory investigations
(3) Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to:
(A) analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information;

Applicable National Science Education Standards (SRI)

Science as Inquiry (12ASI)

Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

Understandings about scientific inquiry
12ASI2.3 Scientists rely on technology to enhance the gathering and manipulation of data. New techniques and tools provide new evidence to guide inquiry and new methods to gather data, thereby contributing to the advance of science. The accuracy and precision of the data, and therefore the quality of the exploration, depends on the technology used.

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (12FSPSP)

Personal and community health
12FSPSP1.1 Hazards and the potential for accidents exist. Regardless of the environment, the possibility of injury, illness, disability, or death may be present. Humans have a variety of mechanisms - sensory, motor, emotional, social, and technological - that can reduce and modify hazards.

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