Saturday, January 4, 2014

Plate tectonics: 6th-grade curriculum notes

This figure is from a website distributing free science curricula. Coming up with a creative name for an already existing “plate” might be and creative, but it’s not science, and it’s nowhere close to what scientific creativity is like.

I will switcheroo the assignment, also for free.
Here is one way to present plate tectonics to 6th graders, with an emphasis on flexing the scientific creative muscle.
Map 1: Oceans & Continents, showing topography (height)

First look at map 1 (above).  Here is a map of the Earth’s surface showing the topography (height) of the continents and the ocean floor. Find approximately where you live on this map. Is there anything about what you see in the map that leads you to think that the Earth’s surface might consists of rigid crust (plates) that slide around on the surface?  Imagine that the Earth’s surface is divided into about ~12 major rigid plates that slide around on the surface. Based on what you see in the map, try to outline an entire plate.  
Map 2: Earthquake locations for Earthquakes 1963-2008

Now look at map 2: This is a similar map of the surface of the Earth, but the map shows only black or red dots where an earthquake happened between 1963 and 2008. Try to find where you live on this map. Why do you think earthquakes occur mostly along localized zones, and not evenly distributed across the world? Do the localized zones coincide with the boundary between oceans and continental crust? Does the plate outline that you drew on the top map coincide with what you see on the bottom map? Do you think seismologists might have been the scientists who discovered plate tectonics?*

*Hah! That last bit is not for the 6th grade curriculum. That’s just me taking another opportunity to make fun of seismologists!

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