Earthquake Case Studies: Scientific Details and Societal Impacts

This page is authored by Matthew Nyman, Oregon State University. This activity is part of the Addressing the Complexity of Teaching (ACT) project at Oregon State University. The ACT teams includes Drs. SueAnn Bottom, Kathryn Ciechanowski, Matthew Nyman and Emily van Zee.
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This lecture/lab activity will take place over 4-5 2 hour class periods. In this lecture/lab activity students will learn basics of earthquakes through direct instruction and guided inquiry projects, participate in a small group project investigating details of earthquake events that had a large global impact, read articles on the local impacts, attend talks from people who have visited earthquake ravaged countries (like Haiti, Japan and Sumatra) and write reflective essays discussing issues of social and environmental justice relative to earthquake events.

Intended outcomes include:
Students will gain content knowledge on earthquake basics;
Students will gain knowledge of a specific large earthquake event including geologic and tectonic details, seismic hazards, social and economic impacts;
Students will gain perspective on social and environmental justice issues related to inequity of earthquake impacts.

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Learning Goals

Concepts and content covered during activity: earthquake basics, case studies for large earthquake events, economic, social and humanitarian impacts of large earthquake events.

Higher-order thinking skills practices during activity: critical thinking about inequities related to impact of large earthquake events; synthesis of data on single, large earthquake events.

Other skills developed during activity: Internet research skills, technology skills such as using Google Earth, making websites and connecting websites to Google Earth, communication skills, group working skills.

Environmental justice/social justice connection: This activity stretches the definition of environmental justice towards the larger lens of social justice. Students will be exposed to the inequitable impacts of earthquakes on at-risk populations that may also include minority populations, individuals of lower socioeconomic position and women.

Context for Use

The lab/lecture activity is best suited for smaller classrooms (20-30 students)for university students but could be adapted for middle or high school classes. The activity is best run using groups of 4 students. I have designed the activity to take 4-5 2 hour class periods including time for student presentations. Access to computers is required for conducting research. I have required students to present their information using Google Earth although presentations could be made using any visual means (PowerPoint, Prezi, etc.). Students should have good Internet research skills including accessing, downloading, and referencing video and still images. If Google Earth is used as a presentation platform students need to have or develop skills to display information as Placemarkers and organize pertinent places and associated video and/or images within the MyPlace panel. I integrate social and environmental issues through asking local people who assisted in the disaster areas to give presentations. This connection can also be fostered through students reading articles or viewing video from the earthquake location.

Description and Teaching Materials

Details of the activity are included in the attached document including introduction, goals, assessment and specific steps for the activity. A list of resources mostly related to two major earthquake events are also included - Haiti 2010 and Japan 2011. EARTHQUAKE CASE STUDIES Scientific Details and Societal Impacts (Acrobat (PDF) 167kB Mar18 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

I anticipate a difficulty in this activity is ensuring that preliminary earthquake content is covered sufficiently to provide enough background to complete the activity. An assessment after direct instruction and guided inquiry might be useful to ensure that content is covered. If guest speakers who were engaged in recovery operations are not available an alternative may be to conduct a debate around the issues brought up in the "Seismic Inequality" article; how do you balance mitigation cost for a one time event (which might result in significant suffering) be balanced against other humanitarian needs. Another alternative is to have students examine first hand accounts of earthquake hazards and impacts and role play the different impacts on people depending on their socioeconomic standing in the country (say a poor slum resident in Haiti compared to a powerful politician). Whatever the process, the goal is to have students "experience" or "explore" how the degree of suffering from earthquakes hazards has grand inequities.


Group presentations will be graded based on organization of the presentation (10 pts). Individual grades will be based on the information, organization and presentation of your specific role in the project (20 pts).
Individual writing products will be graded based on writing and grammar proficiency and depth of content. This will be due on the day of the online quiz and included in your quiz grade.

References and Resources

References are included the activity write up.