Earthquake Inquiry: There's a Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On!

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SWBAT ask their own questions about earthquakes and then find the answer by researching.

Big Idea

Shaking? Quaking? We have so many questions about earthquakes! Let's begin our study by using these questions as a guide for researching to find our own answers.

Teacher Notes

Activity Description

This lesson involves student-led inquiry about earthquakes.  As the lesson begins, they write down 3 questions that they have about earthquakes.  Then they research with a partner to try to find the answers to their questions.  Then the class watches a video in which two girls investigate the answer to their own question by using scientific evidence.  When viewing the video, the children also can listen to see if any of their unanswered questions are then answered.  If not, the students are encouraged to keep on researching during independent time to find their answers.  

NGSS/Common Core Connections

In the NGSS, the children are expected to use information from several sources to provide evidence that Earth events can occur quickly or slowly.  In order to do this, they need to have a basic knowledge of earth events.  In this lesson, they will be learning specifically about the earthquakes.

Also the students will be practicing asking and answering their own questions to drive the inquiry process, which is part of the science practices.  In addition, as part of the science practices and the Common Core, the students will be using grade appropriate texts to obtain scientific information by using text features that will be useful in answering a scientific question. 

In addition, this lesson helps the children to understand the cross-cutting concept that some things stay the same and others change.





5 minutes

I begin the lesson by getting the children in the inquiry mode.

We have learned a little about earthquakes, but I'm sure you still have a lot of questions.  What are some of your questions that you have? What could we do to answer those questions?  

Every child is filled with lots and lots of questions about the natural world.  It seems like the more they know, the more they want to know.  This is perfect segway to the topic of our lesson today--asking questions and then researching to find the answers.

What makes a good question?  How do questions usually start?

I pull up the Question Stems Poster for their reference.  We have been using this poster since the beginning of the year, so the children are very knowledgeable of them, but I still have a few children with language difficulties who are in need of the extra support.  This poster helps bridge that gap and make it more visual for them.

Why do people, like scientists, ask questions?

I want them to understand that scientists ask questions so they can find out more about things, such as our natural world.  Scientists ask questions, but don't just leave it at that, they research and investigate to find the answers.  Questions are a guiding force that lead any investigation.  

How do they go about finding the answers?

Ahhh.  This leads us to the important essence of the lesson.  Scientists ask important questions, which leads to inquiry.  They can find their answers by doing research or an investigation.  And today we will be doing just that--researching texts to find our answers.


30 minutes

I want the children to explore the idea of asking their own questions and then researching to find the answers.  I give them a   I wonder ..... inquiry recording paper in order to accomplish this task.

Today we are going to be scientists and think about 3 questions that we would like to have an answer to about earthquakes.  Write down each of the questions on the sheet, each question should be in its own box.  What do we need to remember to do when we write a question?  Right, we start with a capital letter and end with a question mark.

You need to think of 3 questions that you think we can answer by researching.  Look at the question stem poster if you need help starting your questions.

In advance, I have set out books about earthquakes on my front table.  Each partner group will need at least one resource to work with.  

I have the children partner up with their My Clock Buddies.  I use the clock buddies when I need them to easily get into groups easily.  Click here for a demonstration of how My Clock Buddies work. I want them to work with a partner for a multitude of reasons.  See my reflection for an explanation of the benefits of working with partners.

After the children get with their clock buddy they start researching the questions they have written down.  I have them write their questions and then get into partner groups.  This way they actually had 6 questions to find the answers to and they could help each other and learn from their partners questions as well.  You could also just have the children get into partner groups and then write down three questions collectively.  Then they would be searching for the answers to 3 questions and be working collectively the entire time.  It's up to you which way you want to do it. 

I give them specific directions when they are ready.

You are going to be working with your clock buddy today to research to try to find out the answers to all of your questions.  You have written 3 questions, and your partner has written 3 questions.  So your task today is to work together to try to find the answers to all 6 questions.  You can use one of the books that I have up at my front table.  When you are looking at the books, it would take a really long time to read the entire book in order to find your answers.  What helpful features can we use in books to help us find the information that we need?

We have been working on text features since the beginning of the year.  Now is the time that the children need to make the connection between practice and using these features for their own research.  Of course, there are several places that the children make look to help them find the answers that they need easily and quickly--the table of contents and also the index.  They can also scan the book to see what images might help them with their answers.  Having the children learn to utilize these features is part of the Common Core and just part of making work a lot easier.

As the students are working, I walk around and check in on their progress.  In this video clip a boy tells us his question and then explains the answer.



15 minutes

We watch an episode on Dragonfly TV about earthquakes to find out even more about them.  This is an older video, but it is very relavant since the girls in the video begin their investigation by asking a question.  Plus anytime kids are watching other children do their own investigations, it becomes so much more real to them.  

In this video, there are two girls who are very much like you.  They are going to investigate earthquakes by first asking their own questions about them.  They wonder "How does the Earth move if there is an earthquake?"  They explain a little bit about earthquakes and then they go around town looking for evidence that will help them find an answer to their question.

I try to make sure the children understand why we are watching the video and the relevance to them.  Bringing them into the equation piques their interests a bit further.





10 minutes

To wrap the lesson up, as a whole class we discuss what they have learned.  

Were there some questions that you could not find the answer to?  Did any of you find an answer to all of your questions?  What do scientists do when they can't find an answer to their questions?

I ask those questions because I know most of them have not found the answers to every question (see video clip).  This naturally leads to the conclusion that I want the children to come to.  That if we don't find the answers to our questions, we keep on researching, just like a scientist would do (see video clip).  This helps develop their inquiry skills since they are intrigued by the idea of researching to find answers to their unanswered questions.  On the worksheet, there is a box for them to check if they could not find the answer to their question(s).

I also ask them to evaluate their own work and ideas.

What do you think your best question was?  Why?  

See this video clip  to see how a child answered that question.  Click here for another response.

What was your most interesting question?  Why do you think that way?

See this video clip to how a child answered this question (sorry,  I cut if off before he was answering the "why").  Having the children evaluate their own ideas makes them think about what the quality of their own work.  It makes them question themselves about what makes a good question, which in turn drives the inquiry process.