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Earthquake Detector

Research earthquakes and how they are detected and measured then make a simulated seismograph.

  • Grade 3
    Grade 4
    Grade 5
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Directions

    1. Students research the earth processes that result in earthquakes. Look at maps to determine where earthquakes occur frequently. Locate recent earthquakes and find their magnitude. Investigate the science of earthquake detection, including seismographs and the Richter magnitude scale.
    2. Students work in teams of two or three to build a replica of an earthquake detector. Remove the lid from a shoebox. Use a ruler and Crayola® Scissors to cut 4-inch (10 cm) slits in the bottom edges of the two long sides of the box. Students should ask an adult if they need help to cut or align the slits across from each other.
    3. Students cut paper into strips slightly smaller than 4 inches (10 cm) wide. Attach pieces together with clear adhesive tape to form a long strip. Insert the strip of paper into the slits so the ends of the strip extend out of the slits.
    4. Attach two rubber bands around the box so the bands are stretched wide to the sides of the other two slits. Place a Crayola Fine Line Marker between the two rubber bands. Cut two pieces of yarn with scissors and tie the marker into place between the rubber bands so the tip lightly rests on the strip of paper in the box.
    5. Students work together with one partner jiggling the box and the other pulling the paper through to get a continuous reading of the magnitude of the simulated earthquake. Experiment with your own ideas for improving the design of the earthquake detector.
  • Standards

    LA: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    LA: Read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grade level text complexity band independently and proficiently.

    LA: Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade level topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

    LA: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade level reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

    LA: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

    LA: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

    MATH: Convert like measurement units within a given measurement system.

    SCI: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth’s surface at varying time and spatial scales.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of their experiences and ideas.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of their ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: Earthquakes by Seymour Simon; Earthquakes (reillustrated) (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Franklyn M. Branley; DK Readers: Earthquakes and Other Natural Disasters by Harriet Griffey

    Student teams cover the sides of their earthquake detector with information about a specific earthquake. Students focus on the earth processes that work to cause earthquakes, including diagrams to illustrate what actually happens during an earthquake.

    The Richter Scale was developed by Charles Richter to measure earthquakes. He was born on April 26, 1900, near Hamilton, Ohio. Students investigate how he invented this tool. Students may also research the mathematical calculations used to determine Richter magnitudes.

    Select an earthquake from a time period that the classis currently studying or has studied this school year. Students research details, including rescue efforts, extent of damage, building code changes as a result of the quake, and other facts about the specific event.

    What are safety procedures to follow if you live in an area that is known to have earthquakes? Students research these procedures and prepare a presentation for classmates. Organize a practice drill.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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