INTRODUCTORY ACTIVITY
1) Show your students the pen, plastic ruler, stick or twig, playdough or clay, and rubber band. Explain to your students that you are going to break or destroy all of these items, and you’d like them to watch, listen, and observe what happens as each object is broken. Put on your safety goggles. Pick up each of the items and break each in half or pull them apart. Do not discuss what students are seeing or hearing until you have broken all of the objects. (Alternatively, if you have enough safety goggles and willing students, ask students to break the objects.)
2) Ask your students what they saw, heard, and observed as you broke or pulled apart the objects. (Students should point out that you applied force or pressure, which resulted in the breaking. The breaking sometimes resulted in a sound, and it changed the shape and structure of the objects.) As a class, come to a consensus that when force was applied, in each case, energy was released. Explain to students that stress built in each object as force was applied, to a point when the item broke and energy was released. Students should deduce that in all cases when force is applied to the objects to try and break them, potential or stored energy is converted to kinetic energy in the form of heat and/or sound. Tell students that this is analogous to the build up of stress and the release of energy in an earthquake. They will be exploring the forces and factors that contribute to earthquakes during the next few class periods.
3) Distribute the Knowledge Tracking Chart (PDF)(RTF) to your students. Write the following list of focus questions on the board for your students:
a. What is an Earthquake?
b. What are P and S waves?
c. What are the most destructive waves?
d. How can we detect an earthquake?
e. How can we use data to locate an earthquake’s epicenter?
Instruct students to write the questions they know and their corresponding answers in the first column of the Knowledge Tracking Chart, and to write the others in the second column of the Knowledge Tracking Chart. Tell them that over the course of the lesson, they will engage in activities that will help them find answers to these questions. As they find the answers to their questions, they should complete their charts. Explain to students that the completed charts will be collected at the conclusion of the lesson as an assessment.
4) Ask your students if they can recall any recent earthquakes. Ask your students if they know what can cause very serious additional damage after an earthquake occurs? (Student answers will vary.)
5) Tell your students that they are about to watch a video clip showing devastation that can occur as a result of an earthquake. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify destructive forces that can result from an earthquake. PLAY Clip 1, “Destructive Forces” (access the video segments for this lesson on the Video Segments Page). Check for comprehension, and ask students to name additional destructive forces that can result from an earthquake. (Tsunamis and fires.) Remind students that the clip suggested that animals may be able to predict natural disasters. Ask your students if people are capable of predicting natural disasters. (Accept all responses; students may point out that weather disasterssuch as hurricanescan be predicted through the use of satellite imagery and weather data such as barometric pressure.) Ask students if humans can predict earthquakes. (Accept all student responses; point out that our ability to predict earthquakes is not terribly great.) Do they think it is important for us to develop a better understanding of earthquakes, in order to improve our ability to predict them? (Yes.)
6) Explain to students that scientists use several tools to help understand, measure, and locate earthquakes, and that throughout the lesson, they will learn about some of these tools. Explain to your students the video clip showed the aftermath of an Indonesian earthquake in 2004. The earthquake occurred when rocks along a fault, more than 1000 km long in the Indian Ocean, suddenly shifted about 20 meters.
LEARNING ACTIVITIES
1) Tell your students that in order to understand how earthquakes work, they need to understand the structure of the earth. Distribute the “Stressed Out!” Vocabulary Organizer (PDF)(RTF) to your students. Ask your students to log on to the Dynamic Earth Web site. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify the three primary layers that make up the earth. Give your students a minute or so, and check for comprehension. (The three primary layers that make up the earth are the crust, mantle, and core.) Ask your students to write record these definitions on their Organizers. Explain that the crust and mantle are made up of several different areas. Provide your students with a new FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to determine the difference between the “lithosphere” and the “asthenosphere.” Give your students a minute or so, and check for comprehension. (The lithosphere is made up of the crust and a tiny bit of mantle; it is divided into several plates of solid rock that hold the continents and oceans. The asthenosphere is a hot, semiliquid, malleable zone of the mantle. The lithosphere is more flexible than the asthenosphere, and the plates of the lithosphere “float” on the asthenosphere.) Ask your students to write the definitions of these terms on their Organizers.
2) Show your students the hard boiled egg with the cracked shell you prepared before class. Pass the egg around the room. Tell your students to imagine that the earth is the egg; each portion of the egg shell is a different plate of the lithosphere. The hardboiled center of the egg is soft and spongy, like the asthenosphere. Remind students that as a result of heat within the earth, the plates are constantly in motion. Ask your students to click on the link at the top of the Web page that reads, “Plates and Boundaries.” Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask them to define “boundary” as well as the three different types of boundaries between plates. Give your students five minutes or so, and then check for comprehension. (A “boundary” is the border between two plates. Types of boundaries include convergent boundarieswhere plates push toward each other, divergent boundarieswhere plates are moving apart from each other, and transform boundaries, where plates move past each other.) Ask your students to write these terms and their definitions in their notebooks.
3) Explain to your students that earthquakes often occur at these boundaries. Ask students to log on to the “Slip, Slide, and Collide” section of the Dynamic Earth Web site. Students should scroll down the page to the heading “Transform BoundaryGrinding Plates.” Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify what a fault is, and to describe what causes an earthquake at a strikeslip fault. Give your students five minutes or so to complete this task. Check for comprehension, and ask your students to define “fault.” (A fault is a crack or fracture in the earth’s crust.) Ask your students what causes earthquakes at strikeslip faults? (As the plates grind past each other, the jagged edges strike each other, catch, and stick, “locking” the plates in place for a time. Because the plates are locked together without moving, a lot of stress builds up at the fault line. This stress is released in quick bursts when the plates suddenly slip into new positions. The sudden movement is the shaking and trembling of an earthquake.) Remind your students about when you broke the items at the beginning of the lesson, and explain that the building of stress, and its sudden release, is similar to what happens during an earthquake. Be sure your students write the definition of “fault” on their organizer.
4) Explain to students that when earthquakes occur, they generate waves, which can be tracked and measured. Tell students they will be carrying out an activity to simulate the movement of earthquake waves, and that you would like them to make careful observations. Ask students to divide into eight groups. Each group should fill their 1000 ml beaker with water up to the 700 ml mark. Students should then strike the tuning fork on the edge of their desk or table, and immediately immerse the tip of the tuning fork in the water. Students should create a drawing in their notebooks to record their observations. Ask one student to come to the front of the room and illustrate what they saw on the chalkboard or whiteboard. The student’s drawing should indicate concentric circles that spread out and away from the point of contact between the tuning fork and the water. Tell students that earthquake waves travel in much the same manner.
5) Explain to students they will now watch a video clip demonstrating a similar action that occurs in the earth. Write the terms “focus” and “epicenter” on the board. Tell students they will be labeling their diagrams with these terms after watching the video. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to compare the animation of the wave action in the video with the drawing on the whiteboard and the drawing they made. PLAY Clip 2, “Waves of Destruction” (access the video segments for this lesson on the Video Segments Page). Check for comprehension, and ask your students how the animation of the wave action compares to the inclass diagrams. (They are very similar.) Explain to your students that the “focus” of the earthquake is the zone within the earth where the displacementor breakfirst occurs. Ask your students where the focus of the December 26, 2004 earthquake was. (Somewhere in the earth deep beneath the bottom of the ocean, where the initial displacement between plates occurred.) Explain to your students that the “epicenter” of an earthquake is the surface location directly above the focus. Ask your students where the epicenter of the December 26, 2004 earthquake was. (The point on the ocean’s floor directly above the focus.) Ask your students to accurately label their drawings with “focus” and “waves,” and to record the definitions of “focus,” and “epicenter” on their organizer.
6) Tell students that earthquakes create two separate kinds of waves that travel through the earth. The speed of these waves is directly proportional to the rigidity of the rock through which they pass, thus yielding important information about the composition of earth’s interior to geologists. These waves are called Pwaves and Swaves. Create the following chart on the chalkboard or whiteboard:
P waves 
S waves 
AKA:  AKA: 
Travel:  Travel 
Wave Direction:  Wave Direction: 
Particle Motion:  Particle Motion: 
Travels through:  Travels through: 
Diagram:  Diagram: 
Explain to students that you will be using a Slinky to demonstrate the action of two different types of waves, and that as you demonstrate, they should complete the chart on their handout.
Tell students that P waves are also known as “primary waves.” P waves travel faster than S waves. To demonstrate the action of the P wave, attach one end of the Slinky to a fixed point. Stretch/elongate the entire Slinky. Pull the end of the Slinky in your hand toward you, and then sharply push it away towards the fixed point. The action of the Slinky will demonstrate compression and wave direction. Ask your students if this wave direction is upanddown, sideways, or pushpull. (The Pwave direction is pushpull. Conveniently, “pushpull” corresponds to P wave.) Explain to students that P waves travel through “practically anything,” including solids, liquids, and semiliquids. Ask one student to draw a diagram on the chalkboard or whiteboard drawings to show the forward direction of wave travel and the forward and backward particle motion. Students should make their own drawings in the space provided on the handout.
Tell students that S waves are also known as “secondary waves.” S waves travel slower than P waves. To demonstrate the action of the S wave, attach one end of the slinky to a fixed point.
Stretch or elongate the entire Slinky. Shake the slinky from side to side. Ask your students if they wave direction is pushpull. (No.) Is it sideways? (Yes.) Is it up and down? (To a degree, yes.) (The S wave direction is side to side, or shear wave direction. Conveniently, “sidetoside” and “shear” correspond to S wave.) Explain to students that S waves travels only through solid rock, and do not travel through semiliquid or molten rock. Ask one student to draw a diagram on the chalkboard or whiteboard drawings to show the sideways and perpendicular movement to the wave motion. Students should make their own drawings in the space provided on the handout.
Review the contents of the chart on the chalkboard or whiteboard to reenforce student understanding.
P waves 
S waves 
AKA: Primary waves  AKA: Secondary Wave 
Travel: Faster  Travel: Slower 
Wave Direction: Pushpull, or compression  Wave Direction: Side to side, or shear 
Particle Motion: Forward and Backward  Particle Motion: Sideways or perpendicular to direction of wave travel particle motion 
Travels through: Practically anything  Travels through: Solids only 
Diagram: (student diagram goes here)  Diagram: (student diagram goes here) 
7) Explain to students that while P waves and S waves travel through the earth, a third type of wave, surface waves, travel through the more flexible rock on the earth’s surface, moving slowest, but causing the most damage. Surface waves are sometimes referred to a L waves (and you can remember it because they take a long time to travel over the earth). Be sure your students record the definition of L waves on their organizers.
8) Ask students to refer to their Knowledge Tracking Charts, and to complete the charts with information they have learned during the lesson. Then, give students 510 minutes to review their “Stressed Out Vocabulary Organizer.” Ask students to put their Vocabulary Organizers away, and give each student a copy of the SelfCheck Quiz (PDF)(RTF). Ask students to complete the quiz by filling in each blank with the appropriate term. Collect and grade quiz to assess student understanding of key terms, and collect Knowledge Tracking charts as well. Answer Keys for all the student organizers are provided in the Materials list of the Overview page.
CULMINATING ACTIVITY
1) Return Knowledge Tracking Charts to students. Tell them to review answers they have written so far and write any new information that can be used to answer the questions. Explain to students that the earth’s movement through earthquake waves can be recorded by instruments known as “seismometers.” The records that these instruments create (either paper or digital) are called “seismographs.” Students should record these definitions on their organizers.
Pose to your students the following questions: based on their knowledge of earthquake waves, which waves would appear on a seismograph first? (P waves; they travel the fastest.) Which would appear on a seismogram second (S waves, they are slower than P waves, but not the slowest of all). Which waves would appear on a seismograph third (Surface waves, they are the slowest of all).
2) Ask your students to log on to the Seismogram Web site. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify what is being measured on the horizontal and vertical axes of the seismograph. (The horizontal axis measures TIME, the vertical axis measures VELOCITY, or speed.) Explain to students the time that elapses between the arrival of the two types of waves is the “SP interval.” Students should record this definition on their organizer. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them where the SP interval is on the online seismograph. (Between the green line and the red line.) Ask students how they think the arrival time of earthquake waves on at a seismometer will be impacted by the seismometer’s distance to the epicenter. (The farther the seismometer is from the epicenter, the longer it will take for the earthquake’s waves to reach it.) Explain to your students that by using a timedistance graph, you can convert the SP interval into distance. If you have data from three seismograms, you can find the epicenter of an earthquake. Tell your students you will complete an online activity to illustrate this concept.
3) Ask students to log on to the Virtual Earthquake Web site. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to assist you in reading graphs and charts to determine the epicenter of an earthquake. Walk through the activity first as a class. Select to create an earthquake near San Francisco, CA. Examine the map of the area, as well as the sample seismogram. Note that the SP interval on the sample seismogram is about 36 seconds. Click on the “View Seismogram” buttons, and as a class, examine the three seismograms and deduce the SP interval for each. (The SP interval for the first seismogram is 49 seconds, the second seismogram is 72 seconds, and the third seismogram is 64 seconds.)
4) After determining the SP interval for each of the seismographs, click the “Convert SP Interval” button. Explain to students that the graph on the site enables you to convert the SP interval from the three seismometers into distances. As a group, use the graph to determine the epicentral distance from Elko, Eureka, and Las Vegas. (The epicentral distance from Elko is 480 miles, from Eureka is 697 miles, and from Las Vegas is 622 miles.) Ask your students if they have any ideas for how to find a point that is a specified distance from three other points. (Guide students to understand that if you use a map that is in scale, you can draw a circle around each location; where the three circles intersect is the point that’s the correct distance from all three.) Click on the “Find Epicenter” button. The Web site will show three circles intersecting at a point south of San Francisco, the epicenter of the earthquake.
5) Ask students to log on to the Virtual Earthquake site. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to find the epicenter of an earthquake near one of the other cities, using the process you used as a class for San Francisco. Give students 1015 minutes to complete this task.
6) Collect the Knowledge Tracking Charts and Vocabulary Organizers to assess student knowledge from the lesson. Tell students that they will be applying the skills and knowledge gained from completing the lesson to an actual inclass lab as they locate the epicenter of an earthquake by triangulation. In a future class period, have students complete the New York State Regents Earth Science “Locating an Epicenter” lab. A version of the lab activity is available here.
CROSSCURRICULAR EXTENSIONS
Science
Investigate the different scales used for measuring earthquake intensity, such as the Mercalli and Richter scales. How are they similar? How are they different?
Social Studies
Complete online research to find out how the citizens of Indonesia are coping three years after the tsunami.
Research and report on different historic earthquakes.
Trace the development of seismometer technology.
Math
Create “earthquake word problems,” describing the arrival times of P and S waves on a seismogram. Base the word problems on actual earthquakes, real distances, and earthquake prone cities.
COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS
Tell your students that although the most seismically active regions of the United States are along the plate boundaries of the West Coast, including California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, there are seismic sites in many states. Ask students to research your area’s geologic history, and create a list or map of earthquakes or notable seismic. They should locate and present pictures of any structural damages resulting from these events.
Invite a geologist to your classroom to discuss current research and work on predicting earthquakes.

Dean Romano