Browse K-12 Earth Systems Teaching Activities

Browse the collection of teaching activities and projects that explore Earth's systems, including the lithosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, cryosphere, and hydrosphere. You can refine your search by using the search box or selecting the terms on the right side of the page.


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Exploring California's Plate Motion and Deformation with GPS | Lessons on Plate Tectonics
Shelley Olds, EarthScope Consortium
Students analyze data to study the motion of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. From GPS data, students detect relative motion between the plates in the San Andreas fault zone--with and without earthquakes. To get to that discovery, they use physical models to understand the architecture of GPS, from satellites to sensitive stations on the ground. They learn to interpret time series data collected by stations (in the spreading regime of Iceland), to cast data as horizontal north-south and east-west vectors, and to add those vectors head-to-tail.Students then apply their skills and understanding to data in the context of the strike-slip fault zone of a transform plate boundary. They interpret time series plots from an earthquake in Parkfield, CA to calculate the resulting slip on the fault and (optionally) the earthquake's magnitude.

Engaging With Earthquake Hazard and Risk
Jennifer Pickering
This introductory activity engages learners in the study of earthquake hazards and the risk these hazards pose to humans in the communities in which we live. Learners will compare three maps of Anchorage, AK, depicting spatial information related to seismic hazards to generate questions about the factors that influence shaking intensity and damage to the built environment during earthquakes.

Activity 9: Feedback Loops Introduction
Cameron Weiner, Middlebury College
Students are introduced to feedback loop vocabulary and experiment with different relationships between reservoirs in simple feedback loops using LOOPY, a free, online modeling program.

Unit 4: Groundwater, GPS, and Water Resources
Karen M. Kortz (Community College of Rhode Island) Jessica J. Smay (San Jose City College)
GPS data can measure ground elevation change in response to the changing amount of groundwater in valleys and snow cover in mountains. In this module, students will learn how to read GPS data to interpret how the ...

Lesson 2: My Water Footprint (Middle School)
Kai Olson-Sawyer, GRACE Communications Foundation
This lesson centers on a deeper exploration of the water footprint associated with food. Students learned in Lesson 1 that virtual water, especially as it relates to food, typically makes up the majority of their ...

Lesson 1: Water Resources and Water Footprints (Middle School)
Kai Olson-Sawyer, GRACE Communications Foundation
This lesson helps students understand why Earth is considered the "water planet." Students analyze how much of Earth's water is available for humans to use for life-sustaining purposes, and they ...

Fault Models for Teaching About Plate Tectonics
Modified from an activity by Larry Braile (Purdue University) by TOTLE (Teachers on the Leading Edge) Project and further improved by ShakeAlert.
This short interactive activity has learners to manipulate fault blocks to better understand different types of earthquake-generating faults in different tectonic settings--extensional, convergent, and strike-slip. Fault models aid in visualizing and understanding faulting and plate motions because the instructor and their students can manipulate a three-dimensional model for a true hands-on experience.

Volcano Monitoring with GPS: Westdahl Volcano Alaska
Maite Agopian, EarthScope; Beth Pratt-Sitaula, Earthscope Consortium
Learners use graphs of GPS position data to determine how the shape of Westdahl Volcano, Alaska is changing. If the flanks of a volcano swell or recede, it is a potential indication of magma movement and changing ...

Exploring Tectonic Motions with GPS
Shelley Olds, EarthScope Consortium
Using a map showing the horizontal velocities of GPS stations in the Plate Boundary Observatory and other GPS networks in Alaska and Western United States, students are able to describe the motions in different regions by interpreting the vectors resulting from long-term high-precision Global Positioning System (GPS) data. Show more information on NGSS alignment Hide NGSS ALIGNMENT Disciplinary Core Ideas History of Earth: HS-ESS1-5 Earth' Systems: MS-ESS2-2 Earth and Human Activity: MS-ESS3-2, HS-ESS3-1 Science and Engineering Practices 4. Analyzing and Interpreting Data 5. Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking 6. Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions Crosscutting Concepts 4. Systems and System Models 7. Stability and Change

Measuring Plate Motion with GPS: Iceland | Lessons on Plate Tectonics
Shelley Olds, EarthScope Consortium
This lesson teaches middle and high school students to understand the architecture of GPS—from satellites to research quality stations on the ground. This is done with physical models and a presentation. Then students learn to interpret data for the station's position through time ("time series plots"). Students represent time series data as velocity vectors and add the vectors to create a total horizontal velocity vector. They apply their skills to discover that the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is rifting Iceland. They cement and expand their understanding of GPS data with an abstraction using cars and maps. Finally, they explore GPS vectors in the context of global plate tectonics.