Day One of Seth Gets All Shook Up!

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SWBAT develop a model to describe how the geosphere interacts with at least one other Earth System.

Big Idea

What are the processes that occur at plate boundaries that cause the geosphere to interact with all of the other spheres on Earth? Students engage in a data rich activity over the course of 3 lessons to answer this question.

Setting Up the Investigation

This is Day One of a Three Day Lesson.  

On Day One of this investigation, students work in expert groups of volcanologists, geologists, geochronologists, and seismologists to analyze  map data to develop a classification system of Earth's tectonic plates.  On Day Two, students jigsaw into tectonic plate groups and refine the classification system based on their specific plate.  Finally on Day Three, students make a claim supported by evidence about the specific scientific classification of one of the plate boundaries of their assigned plate.

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students begin the work that will lead them to explore the Disciplinary Core Idea of Earth's Systems:  Earth Materials and Systems -  that Earth's major systems are the geosphere (solid and molten rock, soil, and sediments), the hydrosphere (water and ice), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (living things, including humans).  These systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth's surface materials and processes.  The ocean supports a variety of ecosystems and organisms, shapes landforms, and influences climate.  Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the atmosphere to determine patterns of weather.  (5-ESS2-1); The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes:  Nearly all of Earth's available water is in the ocean.  Most fresh water is in glaciers or underground:  only a tiny fraction is in streams, lakes, wetlands, and the atmosphere.  (5-ESS2-2)  and the Crosscutting Concept of Systems and System Models  - A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions (5-ESS2-1), and Scale, Proportion, and Quantity - Standard units are used to describe and measure physical quantities such as weight and volume (5-ESS2-2)

Please Note:  The Lexile Level for Plaid Pete Is Modeling Earth's Systems - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 6 is 770 (5th Grade Range is 740 - 1010).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 10 minutes.

Preparation time for first time construction of the maps is approximately 20 minutes.

Materials Needed:

For the next 3 lessons, I will be using a wonderful FREE resource produced by Dr. Dale S. Sawyer from Rice University - Discovering Plate Boundaries.  This amazing resource has been used in programs for gifted education, and I happen to think that all students should have access to it.  As the author states, these concepts are "the foundation of Earth Science understanding" and because they affect so many people where they live - it is the perfect activity to be addressed in a unit dealing with the interactions between Earth's Systems.  Amazingly, it is offered for at no charge online.  It is the best way I know of to take something as difficult to understand as plate tectonics, and make it meaningful for students.  Although the history of Earth is not addressed in the NGSS until middle school, this basic introduction is appropriate at this grade level.  The focus of these lessons will be on analyzing data, and building an argument from evidence.

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Is Modeling Earth's Systems - Lab Scenario Sheet - Lesson 6

Discovering Plate Tectonics - Teacher's Guides I and II

One each of the following Color Data Maps 24" x 36":  Seismology; Volcanology; Seafloor Age; Topography/Bathymetry (I copy these on a flash drive and take them to a copy center to be copied to the appropriate size, and then laminate them.  They are not consumables so they can be kept for future use).

One copy for each student (black and white) of Student Instructions (If you choose to use these)

One set of Plaid Pete Is Modeling Earth's Systems Map Questions - Lesson 6

Two copies per student (black and white) 11" x 17" of Plate Boundary Map

One copy for every 4 students (black and white) 8 1/2" x 11" of Plate Boundary Map

Group Assignment Slips

Focus & Motivation

5 minutes

Introduce the Scenario

I tell my students I have a different kind of scenario today - it's actually about a problem Seth has with Mrs. Glaze - their Science teacher.  That is motivating enough - they can't wait to read and find out what the problem is!  I pass out Plaid Pete Is Modeling Earth's Systems - Lab Scenario Sheet - Lesson 6.  I tell them there are 3 parts today - Seth, Plaid Pete, and a narrator.  I tell my students to listen for the problem, because it is connected to what we are going to do for the next 3 class periods.

Students Read the Scenario in their Teams

My students get busy reading the scenario "Reader's Theater" style in their teams.  I know when they get to the part in the scenario about the gum that has "already been chewed" I hear laughter and exclamations of "gross!"  I have achieved my aim and this surprising little bit of text has gotten their attention!

When they have finished I say, "I think Seth has a point.  I think sometimes teachers do make things too easy.  I am going to warn you - the next 3 class periods won't be easy.   They will be fascinating and engaging - but they won't be easy!  

Learning Objective & Success Criteria

Note:  Consistent with the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, I am now including a language objective with each lesson.  These objectives were derived from the Washington State ELP Standards Frameworks that are correlated with the CCSS and the NGSS.

I share the learning objective and success criteria:  

Learning Objective:  I can develop a model to describe how the geosphere interacts with at least one other Earth System.

Language Objective:  I can construct grade appropriate oral claims and support them with reasoning and evidence  [ELP.4-5.4]

Success Criteria:  I can complete my model (map) and include additional information to indicate interaction of the geosphere with one or more Earth Systems.

Guided Exploration

55 minutes

Introduction to the Earth's Crust

I tell my students, "Before we get to the rigorous learning - I do need to share with you what Mrs. Glaze shared with Plaid Pete and their class, because it really is the best way I know to describe the Earth's geosphere."  I hold up a hard boiled egg, which I have cracked so that there are large pieces.  I have marked these cracks with a black marker.  It isn't important what shape these are, just that they aren't too small.  I hold up the egg and say, "This hard boiled egg really is a fairly good model for the layers of the earth.  The outside of the egg represents the topmost layer - Earth's crust.  It is actually the thinnest layer.  Earth's crust is found on land, where it is called continental crust, and under oceans, where it is called oceanic crust.  Continental crust is thicker and more dense than oceanic crust.  Both continental and oceanic crust are made of rock."  I gently squeeze the egg and show my students how, just like the Earth - forces push and pull the crust and move the plates.  I tell them, "This is the phenomena you will be investigating in the next three class periods."

Model Earth's Mantel and Core

I have a cutting board and a sharp knife, and I cut the egg in half, right down the middle.  I hold it up so my students can see saying, "Earth's mantle is the layer that is found just below the crust.  Just like Earth's crust, the mantle is made of rock.  The yolk of this egg represents Earth's core.  Earth has a metallic liquid outer core and a solid metallic inner core."  I explain, "The intense heat at the core of the Earth, causes the molten, or liquid rock in the mantle to move.  When this happens, it causes the plates to move.  There is much more to the process, but that is the basic idea of what is happening.  This action of plate movement is where we experience the interaction of the geosphere with other Earth spheres.  In the next three class periods, you will be investigating this area of Science.  It is called Plate Tectonics."

Introduce the Activity

Note:  I had to familiarize myself with both of the Teacher's Guides (I and II) before teaching the lesson, as well as the specific maps and what they represent.  Place the maps in 4 different areas of the room so that groups of students can work with them.  A short synopsis is listed here:  

Seismology Map:  This map shows earthquake locations and depths.  Each earthquake is indicated by a dot, and the color of the dot indicates the depth:  Red = shallow earthquakes - 0=33 km; Yellow or Orange = intermediate earthquakes - 33-70 km; Green = deep earthquakes - 70-300 km; and Blue = ultra deep earthquakes - 300-700 km.

Volcanology Map:  This map shows the location of recent volcanoes or thermal features on Earth.  The dots represent volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, etc.

Geochronolgy Map-Seafloor Age:  This map shows the age of the oceanic crust underneat the world's oceans.  (The map actually highlights divergent plate boundaries).  There is a scale bar, with red being the newest crust, and blue being the oldest crust - with color variants in between.

Geography Map - Topography and Bathymetry:  This map shows the elevation of land surface and the depth of the oceans.  

Rather than give each student a copy of the Student Instruction Sheet, I am modifying this part of the activity and writing step by step directions on the whiteboard as "signposts".  I am thinking my students will need a bit more structure for the activity.  

I give each of my students a Plate Boundary Map.  Then, I assign each student to one of 4 Specialist Groups (Seismology, Volcanology, Geochronolgy, or Geography - corresponds with the maps) and a Plate Name (North American Plate, Pacific Plate, African Plate, South American Plate, Eurasian Plate, Cocos/Nazca/Caribbean Plates) using the Group assignment slips.  There are a choice of 10 different plate groups, but I will only be using six. Students will begin this first activity in their Specialist Groups.  Tomorrow, they will meet in their Plate Groups.

I give my students the following directions.  I refer to them as "Signposts" because I have them posted on the board:


1.  Become familiar with your map, and begin to observe how the data behave on or near plate boundaries.  This is a time of observation, not interpretation!

2.  Your examples should include words like wide, narrow, curved, and symmetric or asymmetric.  (I have to stop and explain the terms symmetric and asymmetric).

3.  You are to look at the whole world.

4.  Like any good scientist, work on building some kind of a classification system of the boundaries between the plates.  (I explain that scientists like to put animals, events, etc. into groups based on similar characteristics.)

5.   Look at the boundaries that you have analyzed and come up with no more than 5 different types.  Name these, Type 1, Type 2, Type 3, etc.

6.  List these types on the back of your Plate Boundary Map with a specific colored pencil, and provide a description for this type.  What are the characteristics that define this type?

7.  Color the boundary on the Plate Boundary Map with that color.

8.  If the boundary is not symmetric, invent a way to show that - this is important information! (I end up having to give an example of this - a line with "flags" or circles on one side)

I have these "Signposts" listed on the whiteboard.  This is a complex task, I know my students will need these step by step directions.

Provide Support 

Another modification I have made to this activity, is to produce a list of questions to trigger students' thinking.  I have posted a copy of the respective questions by each map from the Plaid Pete Is Modeling Earth's Systems Map Questions - Lesson 6.  Even with that, some groups will be stumped!  I have configured my groups such that there are a heterogenous mix of students, but there are still groups that will be struggle.  My big push is just to get them going.  I go over and point to a specific boundary area where there are clear patterns (e.g. the boundary between the North American and Eurasian Plate has only shallow quakes and are almost all exactly on the boundary)  I say, "There is one type.  Can you find another plate boundary that has those same characteristics?"  And off they go!   

I visit the Geochronology Expert Group and discover that they have found their first pattern, as seen in Video Clip 1.  The Volcanologist Expert Group has discovered a number of pattern types, as seen in Video Clip 2.  

I continue to move between groups, listening in as they make observations and look for patterns.  According to the developer - the key to this activity isn't that they completely finish it (some will not!), or that they identify current plate tectonic theory!  The value in this activity is that they observe the data and create logical classifications.  

These are two examples of student's work identifying types:  Example 1 and Example 2.

Reflection & Closure

5 minutes

Preview For Tomorrow

I can barely get my students to stop working.  They do not want to put away their maps. This is the last week of school before spring break, and in most years it is all I can do to get my students to focus and pay attention.  This has to be on my top 5 list of best Science Lessons ever.  

I finally get them rounded up and promise that we will have another go at this tomorrow.  I explain that the signposts on the board will be changed to reflect their new task:  Meeting in their tectonic plate groups.  I say, "When you come in tomorrow morning, take a few moments to review the types you identified today.  Tomorrow, you will be the expert that will be making a presentation to your plate group about what you learned today.  They will be counting on your information to complete the group task - so be sure you are ready!"

I know they will be!