Musical Plates

Teacher Preliminary Lesson 1: The President Wants YOU!

The project story outlines what the student will do in the Musical Plates project. The students will then revisit this story and present what they learned demonstrating their understanding of the relationship between earthquakes and tectonic plates in the form of a letter to the president in Enrichment Lesson 1.

 Students will:
  • Develop a hypothesis and a plan to test their hypothesis
  • Use language to clarify observations and to summarize information.
  • Convey information to others in written form.

One 45 minute class period


Teacher Preparation

  1. Direct the students back to the Preliminary Activity in the Student Activities section.
  2. After completing all of the Core Activities for this project, students will have an opportunity to revisit the project story in Enrichment Activity 1 and write a one page letter to the president and publish it in the Student Gallery of this project. Please refer to the guidelines for how to publish student work online before submitting student work. These guidelines can be found in the Student Gallery.

Assessment Suggestions

Student Activity

The following instructions for Student Preliminary Activity are printed in the Student Activities section of this web site.


  Your teacher will tell you to record your answers in your 'Musical Plates' journal/notebook OR on the student worksheet.

  1. The President wants YOU!
    Read the story below:

  2. You are the lead scientist in the United States Geological Survey (USGS) investigating earthquakes. You are currently sunning yourself on the shores of a remote Pacific island and enjoying the last few days of your first vacation in five years. Just as you to drift off in a pleasant daydream, you are rudely awakened by your cellular phone which is ringing loudly next to you on your beach towel. You pick up the phone and are shocked to hear the frantic voice of your secretary, Ken, yelling that you must return as soon as possible. He explains that the earthquake project that you have been working on has been accelerated by the President of the United States and that you need to begin your analysis immediately. The President wants to know:
    • Where the most recent earthquakes are occurring and if they are more likely to occur in certain locations.
    • Whether or not there is any way to determine what parts of the world are most prone to them.
    • If there is a relationship between earthquakes and volcanoes.
    • If at all possible, the President would also like to know what is causing the earthquakes.

    Unfortunately for you and your research team, the President would like for you to write a one page report with answers to these questions by the end of three weeks or he will cut all of your funding! Realizing that your vacation has come to an end, you jump up and quickly return to your oceanside hut. Your first instinct is to return to your office on the next plane leaving the island, but, when you call the airline, you find out that the next plane isn't due to leave for another three days. At first you think all is lost; then you remember that you have your laptop, cellular phone and modem with you! With these tools you can dial up and begin your investigation from your beach side residence.


  3. What are your ideas?
    Now that you know what the president wants, it is always good to start out with an idea before you begin your investigation. Therefore, you should develop a hypothesis for each of the following questions that the president would like to know. You can compare these to your final conclusions after you complete this project.
    1. Where are the most recent earthquakes occurring and are they more likely to occur in certain locations?
      (e.g. Earthquakes are most likely to occur near the ocean because I live near the ocean and we have lots of earthquakes.)
    2. Is there any way to determine what parts of the world are most prone to earthquakes?
      (e.g. It is impossible to predict where earthquakes occur because we never have earthquakes.)
    3. Is there a relationship between earthquakes and volcanoes?
      (e.g. There is no relationship between earthquakes and volcanoes because many islands have volcanoes and an earthquake would destroy the island.)
    4. What is causing earthquakes?
      (e.g. Earthquakes occur because a giant creature that lives under the surface of the earth rolls over every so often.)

  5. How are you going to test your ideas?
    Use the space below to brainstorm some ideas how you might test out your hypotheses.


NOTE: After completing all of the Core Activities for this project, you will have an opportunity to write a one page letter to the president and publish it in the Student Gallery of this project. Ask your teacher for directions, and, if your report is accepted for publication, you will be awarded an "Earthquake Expert" certificate.




Copyright 2003 Stevens Institute of Technology,
Center for Improved Engineering and Science Education (CIESE) All Rights Reserved.