Earthquake Machine 1—Defining an Earthquake

In this activity, students work collaboratively in small groups to investigate the earthquake cycle using a mechanical model. Students' attention is captured through several short video clips illustrating the awe-inspiring power of ground shaking resulting from earthquakes. To make students' prior knowledge explicit and activate their thinking about the topic of earthquakes, each student develops a definition for an earthquake. Next, small groups of students combine their individual definitions through a collaborative process to create a consensus definition for an earthquake. Using an open-inquiry approach, students then investigate the Earthquake Machine model and compare their group's definition of an earthquake to the behavior of the model. Through this inquiry process students are asked to map the construct of an earthquake to the elements of the mechanical model. A whole-class discussion explores how the model is both like and unlike the actual phenomena of an earthquake and also emphasizes the flow of energy through the the system. 


Students will be able to:

  • Summarize the earthquake process in a short paragraph
  • Use the Earthquake Machine model to demonstrate the causes of earthquakes, noting the flow of energy through the system
  • Illustrate the role of models in the process of science in a short description

Total Time: 50min
Level: Novice

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Many people associate earthquakes with destruction caused by falling buildings or by the creation of a tsunami. While earthquakes may be associated with destruction in the time frame of human activity, in the evolution of the Earth they signal the geological forces that build our mountains and create our oceans. This fact sheet provides an introduction to the causes of earthquakes.

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Related Videos

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