Project Overview
Student Learning Objectives
Content Material
Links to Course Competencies
Supplementary Resources

Stevens Institute of Technology

Earthquakes and Plate Tectonics


Time: Approximately 60 minutes

Materials: World map or spreadsheet program with graphing capabilities

Prerequisites: Students should have some knowledge of latitude and longitude. For those who do not, they can review the material found in the Supplementary Resources section. Students have the option of plotting earthquake locations using a spreadsheet/graphing program such as EXCEL. If they choose to use this option, they should be familiar with how to create scatter plots using the software.

Implementation: This RWLO serves as a good introduction to the study of earthquakes. It can be used either in the classroom or provided as an activity / homework assignment for students. Students can work individually or in small groups but it is recommended that each student answer the questions individually.

  1. Read and/or distribute Part A: Develop a Hypothesis. Explain that when scientists are studying a problem they make observations and then develop a hypothesis to explain their observations. In this case, students should base their hypothesis on what they may have already learned, observed or read about earthquakes. Students should then make a prediction based on their hypothesis in order to test it. Students should share their hypotheses and predictions with others in the class.
  2. Review and/or distribute Part B: Look for Patterns. You can review this part together with students in class or assign it as an in-class or out-of-class activity. Students can plot the locations of earthquakes manually on a world map or copy/paste the data into a spreadsheet. Note that longitude should be plotted on the x-axis and latitude on the y-axis so that it represents the view that would be seen if looking at a world map. If EXCEL is used for this activity, make sure that the longitude column of data is to the left of the latitude column in the spreadsheet. Otherwise, EXCEL will not display the longitude on the x-axis and latitude on the y-axis as required (this is deficiency of EXCEL.) This will mean switching the data columns once the data has been copied/pasted.
  3. Review and/or distribute Part C: Tectonic Plates. Students will compare the maps they have created with maps that show the plate boundaries. They will begin to speculate on the causes of earthquakes in this activity. This RWLO is not intended to be used to explain the details of how earthquakes occur. It is meant to be used as an opening exercise to the unit of study.

(NOTE: this RWLO is based on the Musical Plates Project)

Copyright 2005 Stevens Institute of Technology
Center for Innovation in Engineering & Science Education, All Rights Reserved