November 17, 2017

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Earthquakes and Eruptions | A Standards-Based Lesson


Grounding a study of the Earth’s history and movement in an exploration of our immediate world can be exciting for students and allows some fascinating questions to emerge. How is the earth moving underneath us? Why are continents separating? Why are some landforms eroding and shrinking while others are growing? In this month’s column, we brainstorm the curricular possibilities for a fourth grade class exploring the connections between earthquakes, volcanoes, and plate tectonics by beginning with a question.

Asking students “Why are eruptions and earthquakes so often considered natural disasters rather than natural processes?” attempts to harness the fascination that young people have with these dramatic events and contextualize the exploration within the scientific context. To do so, we draw upon the Next Generation Science Standards for the fourth grade as well as the Common Core State Standards in Reading and Writing.

Essential Question: “Why are eruptions and earthquakes so often considered natural disasters instead of natural processes?

Supporting Questions:

  • What landforms are growing? Shrinking? Moving?
  • What can maps tells us about volcanoes and earthquakes?
  • What eruptions and earthquakes have and/or are taking place near me? How do I know?

Grade: 4

Disciplinary Lens: Geology, specifically volcanology, the study of volcanoes, and seismology, the study of earthquakes.

Next Generation Science Standards:

4-ESS1-1. Identify evidence from patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers for changes in a landscape over time to support an explanation for changes in a landscape over time.
4-ESS2-2. Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features.
4-ESS3-2. Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans.

Common Core English Language Arts Standards Grade 4:

RI.4.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
RI.4.7 Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.
RI.4.9 Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
W.4.7 Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.
W.4.8 Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources.

Aston, D.H. (2012). A rock is lively. Ill. by S. Long. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
Chin, J. (2012). Island. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
Dorian, C. (2010). How the world works. Ill. by B. Young. Somerville, MA: Templar Books.
Fradin, J., Fradin, D. (2007). Volcanoes: Witness to disaster. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
Grace, C. O. (2004). Forces of nature: The awesome power of volcanoes, earthquakes, and tornadoes. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
Gray, S. (2012). Geology: The study of rocks. [True Books: Earth Science]. New York: Children’s Press.
O’Meara, D. (2005). Into the volcano. Ill. by S. O’Meara and D. O’Meara. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press.Peters, L. W. (2010). Volcano wakes up! Ill. by S. Jenkins. New York: Holt.
Rusch, E. (2012). Eruption! Volcanoes and the science of saving lives. [Scientists in the Field series]. Ill. by T. Uhlman. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Rusch, E. (2013). Volcano rising. Ill. by S. Swan. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
Stewart, M. (2011). Inside earthquakes. [Inside series]. Ill. by C. Shaw. New York: Sterling Children’s Books.
Stewart, M. (2011). Inside volcanoes. [Inside series]. Ill. by C. Shaw. New York: Sterling Children’s Books.
van Rose, S. (2008). Volcano and earthquake. [Eyewitness Books]. New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing, Inc.
Wood, D. (2008). Into the volcano: A graphic novel. New York: Blue Sky Press.

Digital Texts:
BBB: Pangaea Timeline
U.S. Geological Services Volcano Disaster Assistance Program
U.S. Geological Services Earthquake Monitoring
Smithsonian Volcano Program
Nova: “Deadliest Volcanoes
Smithsonian Magazine: “One Hundred Years of Earthquakes, One Gorgeous Map
Smithsonian Magazine: “Large Earthquakes Still Possible for Central United States
National Public Radio, “There She Blew: Volcanic Evidence of the World’s First Map

Additional Resources:
National Science Teachers Association: Teaching About Volcanoes Resources
National Science Teachers Association: Teaching About Earthquakes Resources
U.S. Geological Service Education Website for K-6

Teaching Ideas:

  • Before starting your exploration, ask students to list what they know about both volcanoes and earthquakes. Have them compare and contrast their lists with one another. Next, ask them to put a check by the positive aspects of these events. Use this as a starting point for a conversation on the definitions of volcanoes and earthquakes. How do they define each and their causes? To finish this introductory exploration, and transition students from what they think they know to specifics, read aloud Volcano Rising.
  • Provide students with an image of the shape scientists believe Pangaea took. Ask them to tell you what they think it is. If students are struggling to figure out what it might be provide them with a globe or a 3-D computer image of the Earth on a tablet. Or, provide them with cut shapes of the seven continents. Next, watch the BBC clip on Pangaea. After students are introduced to the notion of continental drift, have them explore the spread “Is the earth moving beneath our feet?” from How the World Works (Dorian, 2010). In small groups ask students to list all the ways in which volcanoes and earthquakes impact one another.
  • In keeping with the theme of Rusch’s Volcano Rising (2013), how are volcanoes and earthquakes creative forces? How do they change and shape the earth? Take a walking tour of a your neighborhood or an area near your school where rocks, hills, and mountains reveal layers of prior history and human and occupants. What evidence of volcanoes, earthquakes, erosion, and plate tectonics can students identify? Bring digital cameras along to capture what you see.
  • As you explore a range of sources to learn about volcanoes, which particular volcanoes do students notice coming up again and again in books and magazines? Why are these volcanoes so important? What do they tell us? As you have these conversations about these “touchstone” volcanoes, identify them a map of the world that you can refer back to throughout your unit. How are they similar and different from one another? What is similar and different about their locations around the world? Students could be placed in volcano-specific groups, in which they have to research and present to the rest of the class the connections between the volcano’s location, its eruption history, seismic activity, and the Earth’s plates.
  • Ask students to explore their growing understanding of plate tectonics, erosion, and volcanic activity by exploring mountains. How were various mountain chains around the world and in the United States formed? How were the mountains nearest you formed: by plate tectonics or volcanic action? Are the mountains near you growing or eroding? How do you know? What is the evidence? Jason Chin’s Island is a useful text to use as part of this exploration.
  • Explore the seismic activity in your region using the U.S. Geological Services Earthquake Monitoring. What has happened in your region in the past two weeks? Why? What are the reasons for the seismic activity? Have a local expert come in and talk to students about the ongoing movement of the earth in your area. Based on their research and the expert’s talk, have your students write and record a podcast to inform your school community.
  • In the U.S., which states are growing? Globally, which islands are expanding? Using the range of resources included above, have students identify the areas that scientists know are getting larger because of ongoing volcanic activity. Compare and contrast that to the islands and areas in the U. S. and worldwide that we know are eroding. How do the rates compare? Do islands grow as fast as they erode? Why or why not? Have students label all of this activity on maps in small groups.
  • Divide your class up into expert groups. Several groups can become earthquake experts and several groups can become volcano experts. Melissa Stewarts “Inside” series titles on each can form the core for these discussions, as well as the DK Eyewitness book Volcano and Earthquake. Make sure each group is also supplied with access to a range of maps that show the locations of volcanoes and earthquakes are around the world, and the tools provided by Google Earth and web cameras. Have students determine within their small groups how they are going to report to their classmates what they have learned and the additional questions they may have. You may want to assign the students subtopics; for example, the earthquake groups cover different types of earthquakes, and the volcano groups cover different kinds of volcanoes. Be sure to have all groups strive to make connections between volcanoes and earthquakes and the natural processes associated with the earth’s movement.
  • Reading across a wide range of texts, have students identify the different ways that scientists and engineers have suggested human behavior and/or construction and engineering change to keep people safe during earthquakes and eruptions. What are some of the commonly identified suggestions? What are some of the challenges of these changes? What changes have demonstrated evidence of success? Have students do research and suggest their own original responses to these challenges, adapted to the particular concerns of your community and the geology of your part of the world.
  • Author Elizabeth Rausch has written about volcanoes in two recent books for young people. One is a book for middle grade readers in the “Scientists in the Field” series (Eruption), the other a nonfiction picture book (Volcano Rising). Why both? What’s different about the two? Have students compare and contrast the first few pages of each book. How are they similar? How are they different? Most obvious, perhaps, is the contrast in moods. Why does the author adopt such different moods in each book? What might her purpose be in doing so? How do these different moods and purposes help shape further student understanding of science writing for the general public? While Eruption is quite difficult for most fourth graders, examining several pages with teacher guidance can be effective in the context of comparison. Or, through flexible grouping, you can have your stronger readers examine Eruption and other students explore Volcano Rising. Jigsaw the groups for comparison and contrast.

Readers of this column may have noticed that we drew on Jason Chin’s Island (2012) in this exploration of plate tectonics, volcanoes, and earthquakes, and that we also used this book in an exploration of evolution with sixth graders in our December column. It’s essential that teachers and librarians match texts to their instructional purposes. Island can serve multiple uses and multiple readers. We can look at it as a window into the process of evolution of plants and, or a window into the evolution of landmasses. Like so many well-written titles, Island can sit within different units of study in the content areas and language arts when matched with a specific purpose and a wide array of well-written books and engaging digital texts. Next month, we will examine how we can integrate a range of quality titles for young people into a middle school social studies exploration.

Mary Ann Cappiello blogs on “The Classroom Bookshelf” and will be a participant in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators day-long conference titled “From Creative Process to Curriculum Connections: Children’s Books in the Classroom” on March 22nd at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA.

Myra Zarnowski is a professor of Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Queens College, CUNY,  and the author of History Makers and Making Sense of History.


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