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Distribution of Active Volcanoes Exercise

Teaching materials by John C. Butler - Starting Point page by R. Teed (SERC).
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


This worksheet is intended to direct students working independently in a 6-week volcano exercise within an online geology course. The exercise consists of a series of questions plus helpful links and a map. The students collect and plot data, then interpret the results and answer questions about the geologic causes and the human effects of volcanic eruption. The exercise includes role-playing (individual) and a virtual field trip.

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Learning Goals

The purpose of this unit is to:
  • Acquaint students with the distribution of volcanoes and its relationship to Earth's tectonic plates.
  • Explain what hot spots are.
  • Stress the different types of plate boundaries.
  • Teach students about volcanoes as a geologic hazard.

Context for Use

This exercise is part of an online course, but could make for a good series of homework assignments or in-class projects for a face-to-face class. There are eight questions, ranging from a simple definition to a two-page paper.

Teaching Materials

The Distribution of Active Volcanoes Exercise (more info) includes a map of plate boundaries the students will need to print out. Different-color markers and computers with Internet connections will be needed for various questions.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This exercise includes an individual role-playing project: question 7, a newspaper article about funding a convention center in an area with serious volcanic hazards.


All of the questions involve written answers and were intended to assess inquiry activities.

References and Resources

Interactive approaches to role-playing that involve volcanoes are:

  • The Sleeping Mountain: which includes some specific information and links on the dangers of living (or even investing) near a Cascades volcano
  • Eruption