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Plate Tectonics writing assignment suitable for Calibrated Peer Review

William A. Prothero, Jr University of California, Santa Barbara prothero@geol.ucsb.edu
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


This is an example of a writing assignment focussed on the use of data to support the theory of plate tectonics. It includes a scoresheet that was created for a calibrated peer review assignment. However, it would be equally suitable as a teacher graded writing assignment. The assignment directs students to determine the plate boundary types using elevation, age, earthquake and volcano data at a subduction zone and at a spreading center. Learners access data using the "Our Dynamic Planet" CDROM, capture images of the data plots, and incorporate them into their writing. The support materials provide specific instructions on how to construct a scientific argument using these data. In addition, the teacher materials suggest other kinds of investigations that can be conducted using the available data.

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Learning Goals

1) develop an understanding of how convergent and divergent plate boundaries differ

2) learn to use data to make a scientific argument

Context for Use

This is a writing assignment that the student can do in a computer lab or own her/his own computer. It is targeted at an introductory geology or oceanography course.

Equipment required for EarthEd Online:

*Macintosh OSX and Classic or PC with Win/98/2000/XP.

This assignment was created using the EarthEd Online system, but all materials are available for entry into the UCLA Calibrated Peer Review system. UCLA calibrated peer review home page (more info)

Teaching Materials

Detailed examples that use data in the Our Dynamic Planet CD to investigate plate tectonics problems. (Acrobat (PDF) 64.4MB May12 05)

Assignment description-student handout (Microsoft Word 27kB May12 05)

Anatomy of a science paper-student handout (Microsoft Word 178kB May12 05)

Short summary of data for studying plate tectonics; student handout (Microsoft Word 152kB May12 05)

How to avoid the appearance of cheating-student handout (Microsoft Word 27kB May12 05)

The following link will download a zip file containing the 3 calibration papers used in this writing assignment. The instructor will have to create the scores for each paper, unless the EarthEd Online writing system is used. Three calibration papers in web page format - zip file (Microsoft Word 1.6MB May12 05)

I use EarthEdOnline to deliver this assignment. The following document describes EarthEd Online and results with the CPR assignment delivered to a general education oceanography class during the winter quarter of 2005.

Using EarthEd Online to deliver a CPR assignment (Acrobat (PDF) 4.9MB Apr28 05)

Information about other data browsers, EarthEd Online, and UCSB Oceanography can be found at: UCSB Oceanography home page

Teaching Notes and Tips

The following activities are used to prepare students for this assignment:
  1. lecture and video explaining the theory of plate tectonics
  2. reading about the theory of plate tectonics from the class text
  3. reading "Anatomy of a Science Paper" (see resources)
  4. a homework assignment covering boundary types
  5. in-class "question of the day" activity that addresses plate boundary types
  6. a 2 hr lab session where students investigate the plate boundaries, using the "Our Dynamic Planet" CD and discuss the components of the writing assignments
  7. in-class discussions of science writing and use of evidenced in argumentation

--If this is the first assignment where students are asked to used data, the above scaffolding activities help get the support they need to do their best.


Plate Techtonic Assignment Scoresheet (Acrobat (PDF) 45kB Jul19 05)

References and Resources

The Our Dynamic Planet CDROM provides students with a rich collection of data relevant to the study of plate tectonics. It includes a 30 minute animated video outlining the theory, a geography game to help students recognize the names of continents and oceans on a world map, a profile game to help students visualize topographic profiles, and the MAP data, which includes elevation, age, earthquake, volcano, and heat flow data that can be displayed and captured to jpeg images that students can include in their writing assignments.

How to get the Our Dynamic Planet CDROM (Acrobat (PDF) 300kB Sep20 05)