Introductory Earth & Earthquake-science Lectures


How can I describe Earth and plate-tectonic processes?

Earthquake science can be daunting to teach, and how it is presented affects understanding. In this series of videos, analogies are used to clarify complex topics as we cover the fundamentals of plate tectonics and the basics of earthquakes.

 The treatment of plate tectonics emphasizes how the distribution and properties of plates and the motions at different kinds of plate boundaries explain global-scale patterns of earthquakes and volcanoes. Themes of the introduction to earthquakes are the nature of seismic waves, the geographic, depth, and size distribution of earthquakes, and the interplay of forces, faults, and friction that account for where and when earthquakes occur.

These clips are taken from an educational workshop on earthquakes and plate tectonics for middle-school, Earth-science teachers in 2007. Dr. Robert Butler explains clearly and clears up misconceptions. How Earth science is presented affects understanding.


Topics covered:

  • Layers of the Earth
  • Plate tectonics
  • Earthquake magnitude
  • Seismic wave behavior.
  • Analogies are used to clarify concepts
Conceptual model of the relative thicknesses of the Lithosphere relative to the diameter of the Earth uses a hard-boiled egg to gain understanding about the scale of the lithospheric plates.
Video Novice
Silly Putty is used as a model to show how the asthenosphere is elastic when exposed to short-duration forces (like seismic waves) but plastic when exposed to long-duration forces (like the load of the Hawaiian Islands on the Pacific Plate).
Video Novice
Video lecture on how temperature controls mechanical behavior of materials, including rocks. A Big Hunk candy bar is used as a model. The cold candy bar is brittle whereas the warm candy bar is ductile or "plastic".
Video Novice
Understanding the magnitude change, thus the relative energy released from say, magnitude 7 to magnitude 8 can be challenging. Dr. Robert Butler (Univ. of Portland) uses spaghetti to illustrate the concept by breaking pasta to show how each step up in magnitude represents a huge jump in the size of the pasta bundles. Each step in magnitude is represented by 32 times more spaghetti noodles.
Video Novice
Video lecture about elastic rebound and brittle material in the crust using a yardstick as a mechanical analog. This demonstrates elasticity, brittle fracture, and why it is difficult to predict earthquakes.
Video Novice
How can I demonstrate plate tectonic principles in the classroom? Video lecture demonstrates the use of foam faults to demonstrate faults, and a deck of cards to demonstrate folds and fabrics in rock layers. Different types of faults include: normal (extensional) faults; reverse or thrust (compressional) faults; and strike-slip (shearing) faults.
Video Novice
Video lecture covers three basic types of tectonic plate boundaries.
Video Novice
How can I get across the idea in a classroom activity using no props? The human wave is used as an analogy for travel times of P and S seismic waves.
This draft video uses arms over shoulders as well as hand holding methods, so read the caveats about the best method (arms over shoulders). 
Video Novice
A video demonstration of how a slinky can be a good model for illustrating P & S seismic waves movement.
Video Novice
Video lecture on wave propagation and speeds of three fundamental kinds of seismic waves.
Video Novice
What can you do to protect a building from earthquake shaking?  This “Build a Better Wall” classroom activity is designed to allow students to experiment with methods to build shear strength into buildings to withstand an earthquake. Uses simple materials to engineer shear walls.
Video Novice

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