Life and Death of Hawaiian Volcanoes: A Jigsaw Activity on the Hawaiian Ridge

Created by:
Andrew R. Greene (Hawai'i Pacific University;
Michael O. Garcia (University of Hawai'i at Manoa;
John R. Smith (University of Hawai'i at Manoa;


This activity immerses students in the discovery and appreciation of the Hawaiian hotspot, and the growth and evolution of Hawaiian volcanoes. This engaging, interactive group activity uses a beautiful 25 foot long wall map with the newest bathymetry of the Hawaiian Ridge to show students how science works, using the latest data to collaboratively explore one of Earth's most fascinating volcanic phenomenon that is the classic example of a hotspot.
  • In the first part, individual Specialty Groups focus on one of five topics: shield volcanoes, giant landslides, volcano ages, volcano volumes and subsidence. Each hands-on group activity uses real scientific data, maps and imagery for students to explore each topic in detail, while making measurements and graphs.
  • In the second part, Synthesis Groups are formed with a member of each specialty. Using the large wall map and related graphs they have made, students teach one another about their specialty, and then complete an activity together using their collective knowledge to interpret the growth and degradation of Hawaiian volcanoes. The ultimate goal of this module is to understand the life and death of oceanic shield volcanoes which populate the Earth's major ocean basins.

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This jigsaw activity is designed for undergraduate or graduate courses in geology, environmental science, natural hazards or oceanography. It is a terrific introductory activity on the Hawaiian Ridge, hotspot volcanism and shield volcanoes. The activity takes about 3 hours to complete and requires the use of 4 large maps (totaling ~7.5 m long, 25 feet) to be printed by the instructor. This activity does not assume any prior knowledge of geology, natural hazards, or oceanography or the use of any computers (besides a calculator). There is an excellent pre-activity reading for an introduction to topics covered in this module. The exercise promotes building skills in communication, observation, and interpreting data from multiple sources. This activity is a stand-alone exercise, but can be used as the first activity in a sequence of exercises on Hawaiian volcanoes and hazards.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This activity does not require any prior knowledge of geology or the Hawaiian Islands. It is designed as an ideal introduction to the topic. Observational skills with maps, and basic math and graphing, are necessary.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is excellent as a stand-alone exercise early in the semester to engage students in science, or works well as an initial activity in a sequence of exercises on geology, volcanoes, or natural hazards.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

This jigsaw activity is designed around the use of a 25 foot long map of the Hawaiian Ridge and a set of exercises for five Specialty Groups on: 1) shield volcanoes, 2) giant landslides, 3) volcano ages, 4) volcano volumes and 5) subsidence. Students will communicate observations, record and plot data, and make interpretations about their specialty. Then in Synthesis Groups, students will teach one another about their specialty and complete a synthesis activity together and summarize their work.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This unique map-based jigsaw activity uses higher order thinking skills in learning through:
  • interconnectedness of a variety of scientific fields used for understanding hotspot volcanism on Earth
  • exploring and making discoveries using maps, measurements and scientific data
  • analyzing and problem-solving
  • reflecting and verbalizing
  • synthesizing information

Other skills goals for this activity

Making measurements on maps, basic conversion of units, working collaboratively in groups, and teaching fellow students.

Description and Teaching Materials

Eight files for downloading:
  1. Instructor files_keys.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 3.6MB Jul6 16) (For instructor**READ FIRST**-contains Table of Contents)
  2. Pre-activity Reading.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 3.9MB Jul6 16) (For whole class, to be read before activity)
  3. A_Shield Volcanoes.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 1.1MB Jul6 16) (For Specialty Group)
  4. B_Giant Landslides.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 1.4MB Jul6 16) (For Specialty Group)
  5. C_Volcano Ages.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 1.1MB Jul6 16) (For Specialty Group)
  6. D_Volcano Volumes.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 1.2MB Jul6 16) (For Specialty Group)
  7. E_Subsidence.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 4.5MB Jul6 16) (For Specialty Group)
  8. Synthesis_Part2.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 391kB Jul6 16) (For whole class in Synthesis Groups)

Four files below are the large maps of the Hawaiian Ridge to be printed by the instructor to use in the jigsaw activity. Edges can be cut and maps taped together (or lined up adjacent to one another when tacked on wall) for full 7.5 m long (25 foot) map.
  1. Kure to Lisanski (Acrobat (PDF) 2MB Jul6 16) (41" x 62")
  2. Pioneer Bank to Brooks Bank (Acrobat (PDF) 2.6MB Jul6 16) (41" x 77")
  3. French Frigate Shoals to Nihoa (Acrobat (PDF) 64.1MB Jul6 16) (41" x 66")
  4. Main Hawaiian Islands (Acrobat (PDF) 2.7MB Jul6 16) (41" x 66")
Additional supplies for activity:
  1. Tape measures (8 m/26' long) or sections of string marked with measurements (4-5 for Volcano Ages specialty group)
  2. Plastic or paper, full circle protractors (can print 360° protractor) (4-5 for Shield Volcano specialty group). A printable version can be found at
  3. Plastic 30-cm metric rulers (4-5 for Volcano Volume specialty group)
  4. Calculators (or phones with calculators) for all groups, except Giant Landslides
Blank white 8x11 paper should be available for answering questions in the activity.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The file 'Instructor files_keys.pdf' should be opened first. It has a full overview of the activity and lists of all files and supplies needed. Instructor keys, all parts of the activity, and new illustrated pre-activity reading are included with the materials for this exercise.


No assessment strategies are currently available for this exercise.

References and Resources

All resources necessary for the activity are included above.