Plate Movement Day 1

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SWBAT demonstrate their understanding of three types of plate movement using an Oreo cookie.

Big Idea

Making models in science can be sweet! Using the Oreo cookie to represent the lithosphere and asthenosphere we can model plate movement.

The Need For This Lesson

When students look at a scientific drawings or simulation what do they actually see or comprehend about the images? This lesson guides the students through the viewing of short video animations of convergent, divergent and transform plate boundaries. Students create a model of what they have seen using an Orea cookie. 

The need for this lesson is the opportunity to make student thinking visible. 

Investigation Preparation & Summary

5 minutes

Investigation Summary & Standards

Student learning includes the understanding of how changes in the Earth's surface over time. This lesson encourages student analysis of scientific animations and the creation of a model based on those animations. How students see and evaluate scientific animations is made visible. Students connect the creation of mountains, volcanoes and earthquakes with the movement of plates. (MS-ESS2-2 Construct an explanation based on evidence how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales) (SP6 Construct an explanation using models)

In middle school, our challenge is to nurture the movement of students from concrete to abstract thinkers. This lesson was designed to aid in that process. Students need guided assistance to develop their skills in visual literacy. In this lesson we look at how plate movement is represented in scientific drawings. I gauge my students understanding by their ability to interpret the scientific drawings and recreate their own concrete example using a cookie. At the end of the lesson we continue to connecting the concrete (cookie) plate movement to actual images of plate movement found online. Students have a better understanding because they are able to connect to a concrete model. Thus covering Science Practice 2 Developing and Using Models.

(SP2 Developing and Using Models

Modeling can begin in the earliest grades, with students’ models progressing from concrete “pictures” and/or physical scale models (e.g., a toy car) to more abstract representations of relevant relationships in later grades, such as a diagram representing forces on a particular object in a system. 

Modeling in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to developing, using, and revising models to describe, test, and predict more abstract phenomena and design systems.

  • Evaluate limitations of a model for a proposed object or tool.

  • Develop or modify a model—based on evidence – to match what happens if a variable or component of a system is changed.

  • Use and/or develop a model of simple systems with uncertain and less predictable factors.

  • Develop and/or revise a model to show the relationships among variables, including those that are not observable but predict observable phenomena.

  • Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.

  • Develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms.

  • Develop and/or use a model to generate data to test ideas about phenomena in natural or designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs, and those at unobservable scales.

Students complete a graphic organizer documenting their understanding as they model plate movement with their cookie so they can report their findings in lesson Plate Movement Day 2.

Students in Action

30 minutes

Students in Action

We begin with an Oreo cookie, and other items on the materials list. I like the "double stuff" because the movement of the tectonic plates or top of the cookie is easier when the filling is thicker. I will guide the students through this lesson using the Plate Movement presentation. The videos noted below are embedded in the powerpoint. Students take notes on their graphic organizer as we progress through the lesson.

Gently we twist off the lithosphere or the top layer of the cookie. We know that the lithosphere is brittle and breaks easily. 

An earthquake! We break the lithosphere in half. Have students listen carefully to hear the break in the Earth's crust. The lithosphere sits on the asthenosphere. We know the asthenosphere is a softer, plastic layer, made so by the heat from the core of the Earth. Students place the lithospheric plates back on the asthenosphere.

Students add notes about the lithosphere and asthenosphere on their graphic organizer. 

After viewing the following animation of divergent plate movement we model divergent plate movement by separating the lithospheric plates. Some students ask if this is how the Grand Canyon was formed. It is not. The Grand Canyon was formed by erosion and we will explore the Earth processes of weathering later.

Students write a concise definition of divergent boundaries on their graphic organizer.

Next, we watch the following animation of convergent plates. Students see that one plate is lifted while the other plate sinks underneath. At this time we talk about how mountains are formed when plates collide. Students are asked, "How can they use the concept of density explain why one plate would sink under the other plate?" Density is a reoccurring concept in science. Prior to the Earth Science Unit we have developed a working knowledge of density. Students create a model of convergent boundaries with their cookie.

Students write a concise definition of convergent boundaries on their graphic organizer.

Finally we watch the animation of transform boundaries. Perhaps the most famous is the San Andreas Fault on the west coast of the United States. Again we model the transform boundary using our cookies.

Students write a concise definition of transform boundaries on their graphic organizer. Note that the graphic organizer has only two boxes for examples of boundaries. This is a deliberate oversight. We are scientists and sometimes we uncover more information than we were originally expecting to find. In this case our "additional information" is a third type of boundary. Students simply create another box for the transform boundary. 

Where is the evidence?

Students have seen evidence of plate movement by watching the scientific animations and by creating their own models using the cookie. They note these observations as evidence on their graphic organizer.

In this video I share the process of students watching the videos showing animations of the plate movement process. After each scientific video, students create a concrete example of the abstract process they have just viewed. This lesson is designed to help students make connections between the abstract video and concrete creating a model using their cookie.


Connecting the Learning

10 minutes

We take a few minutes to search online for real life images of the different boundaries we examined with the animations and cookie models. 

Students are delighted to find examples of transform boundaries where rows of planted crops are no longer straight or roads are rendered impossible to travel.

We learn that the Himalayan Mountains continue to grow as the sub-continent of India continues to collide with the Asian continent. 

And divergent boundaries are found in the ocean where a mid-ocean ridge is formed.