Plates on the Move
A7, Level 3
Students will use models to explain how large scale movements within
the Earths interior cause changes on the Earths surface.
Key Concepts and
- Solid earth is divided into several layers: a thin crust, the
solid lithosphere, the mantle layer, and a dense metal core.
- Heat flow and convection currents within the mantle cause motion
of the lithospheric plates; continental plates and the ocean floor
move at rates of centimeters per year.
- Major geological events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions,
and mountain building are the result of motion of the tectonic
- Skills: Observe, develop models and hypotheses, experiment,
communicate; transfer concepts, record data, summarize data, interpret
data, report orally; use reference materials, deliver a presentation,
measure, sketch, write, compare, plan, design.
Up to twenty days, not consecutive.
Students will develop their understanding of plate tectonics
using hands-on activities, information searches, guided discussion,
and content expertise from the teacher or other subject-matter
- Include a variety of materials in your classroom as an invitation
to learn and use later to generalize. Some materials include;
read-aloud stories, Native stories, personal stories, news articles,
slides and illustrations of earthquakes and volcanoes, and so
- The Alaska Resources Kit: Minerals & Energy (AMEREF); Module
B, Alaskas Geology; available from Alaska Department of
- Perfume, ammonia, or other volatile, odorous substances
- Hot plate or other means to create hot water
- Clear plastic shoe box, glass tank, aquarium, or clear glass
- Ice, food dye, small paper cup, masking tape, water source
- Apple for Scale Model Activity
- Media resources: USGS 64 quake or other geohazard slides,
photos, books, Internet, CD-ROM
- Craft materials to use in student models
From week 1 through week 30 of the school year, record and map
earthquake and volcano occurrence data on individual student maps
and a large classroom map.
Move all students to one side of the classroom. Blindfold them.
Open a bottle of perfume, ammonia or sufficiently odorous substance
on the opposite side of the classroom. Measure the time it takes
the odor to reach the students. Repeat the experiment. This time
put the odor-causing substance on a hot plate. Ask students to
speculate how the odor traveled from the container across the
room to their location. Describe kinetic-molecular theory and
relate it to the odor demonstration. Students draw a magnified
molecular view of the odor demonstration using cartoon-type molecular
characters. Show students pictures, tell stories, ask if they
have experienced earthquakes. Ask students to speculate how the
odor demonstration relates to earthquakes.
The demonstration, discussion, drawing and speculation are part
of embedded pre-assessments to determine student understanding,
previous learning, and possible misconceptions.
Discuss in small-groups what students know or think they know
about the earths interior structure. Elicit questions about
those topics students want to know more about. Ask students how
an apple is similar to the earth. Use the apple as a starting
point to discuss the structure of the earths interior. Cut
an apple in half and use it to refer to the core, layers, and
crust of the earth. (See AMEREF Module B for graphic. Similar
graphics can be found in texts, and the FEMA Earthquake Book.)
Students investigate convection currents by using a heat sink
(cup of ice) or heat source (container of hot water on hot plate)
to observe movement of dye in water. This activity may be modified
by floating continent cut-outs on the water surface.
(See AMEREF Module B.)
Embedded Assessment: Students draw a diagram to show vertical
and horizontal views of convection currents. Use the molecular
cartoon characters created during Gear-Up activities to explain
what causes convection currents.
Students use a world map as a discussion reference to discover
possible geographic land matches such as the Atlantic coasts of
South America and Africa. Put together a jigsaw puzzle that illustrates
global plate boundaries. (AMEREF Module B Plate Tectonic Puzzle.)
Collect and share information about the effects of earths
crustal plate movements. (Sources include: materials from United
States Geological Survey (USGS), slides, magazine pictures, newspaper,
Web search, stories from Elders, and so on). Use student-generated
information as well as information from subject-matter experts
(teacher, USGS personnel and so on) to tie together the concept
of convection as it relates to interior earth movements, and the
large-scale surface effects of plate movements.
Students use words or words and pictures to explain how convection
currents cause large-scale movements on the earths surface
Students design and create a model that shows the relationship
between convection currents within the earths mantle, large-scale
motions of the earths interior, and subsequent effects on
the earths surface.
- Work in small groups to decide the format for their model
(for example, drawing, flip book, diorama, cut-away sphere,
computer graphic, computer simulation, or video) that will demonstrate
the relationship between interior motion and surface changes
of the earth.
- Choose the type of surface change their model will simulate.
- Design and construct their model.
- Make a formal presentation to the class that demonstrates
the relationship between convention currents in the mantle,
large-scale motions of the earths interior, and subsequent
- Discuss how different large-scale motions of the earths
interior produce different landforms on the earths surface.
Use the models as a reference for discussion about landform
grouping around the earth. Why do volcanic mountains appear to
form in clusters?
Level of Performance
|| Student model is complete, detailed, and accurately
describes the relationship between convection currents within the
Earths mantle, large-scale motions of the Earths interior,
and the subsequent effect of the Earths surface. Student explanation
demonstrates evidence of higher-level thinking and relevant knowledge.
There is no evidence of misconceptions.
|| Student model is complete, and accurately describes
some relationships between convection currents within the earths
mantle, large-scale motions of the Earths interior, and subsequent
effects on the Earths surface. Student explanation demonstrates
evidence of higher-level thinking or relevant knowledge. Minor misconceptions
may be present.
| Student model includes convection currents, large-scale
interior movements, or surface changes, but does not demonstrate the
relationship between them.
Student may attempt to construct a model, but the work lacks detail,
is incomplete, or inaccurate. Student explanation shows evidence
of major misconceptions.
Department of Education & Early Development Standards)
The solid earth is layered with a lithosphere; hot, convecting
mantle; and dense, metallic core. (Page 159)
Lithospheric plates on the scales of continents and oceans constantly
move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements
in the mantle. Major geological events, such as earthquakes, volcanic
eruptions, and mountain building result from these plate motions.
Land forms are the result of a combination of constructive and
destructive forces. Constructive forces include crustal deformation,
volcanic eruption, and deposition of sediment, while destructive
forces include weathering and erosion. (Page 160)
Some changes in the solid earth can be described as the rock
cycle. Old rocks at the earths surface weather, forming
sediments that are buried, then compacted, heated, and often recrystallized
into new rock. Eventually, those new rocks may be brought to the
surface by the forces that drive plate motions, and the rock cycle
continues. (Page 160)
Soil consists of weathered rocks and decomposed organic material
from dead plants, animals, and bacteria. Soils are often found
in layers, with each having a different chemical composition and
texture. (Page 160)
Water, which covers the majority of the earths surface,
circulates through the crust, oceans, and atmosphere in what is
known as the water cycle. Water evaporates from the
earths surface, rises and cools as it moves to higher elevations,
condenses as rain or snow, and falls to the surface where it collects
in lakes, oceans, soil, and in rocks underground. (Page 160)
Water is a solvent. As it passes through the water cycle it
dissolves minerals and gases and carries them to the oceans. (Page
Living organisms have played many roles in the earth system,
including affecting the composition of the atmosphere, producing
some types of rocks, and contributing to the weathering of rocks.
The earth processes we see today, including erosion, movement
of lithospheric plates, and changes in atmospheric composition,
are similar to those that occurred in the past. Earth history
is also influenced by occasional catastrophes, such as the impact
of an asteroid or comet. (Page 160)
The interior of the earth is hot. Heat flow and the movement
of material within the earth cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions
and create mountains and ocean basins. Gas and dust from large
volcanoes can change the atmosphere. (Page 73)
Some changes in the earths surface are abrupt (such as
earthquakes and volcanic eruptions) while other changes happen
very slowly (such as uplift and wearing down of mountains). The
earths surface is shaped in part by the motion of water
and wind over very long times which act to level mountain ranges.
Sediments of sand and smaller particles (sometimes containing
the remains of organisms) are gradually buried and are cemented
together by dissolved minerals to form solid rock again. (Page
Sedimentary rock buried deep enough may be reformed by pressure
and heat perhaps melting and recrystallizing into different kinds
of rock. These reformed rock layers may be forced up again to
become land surface and even mountains. Subsequently, this new
rock too will erode. Rock bears evidence of the minerals, temperature,
and forces that created it. (Page 73)
Thousands of layers of sedimentary rock confirm the long history
of the changing surface of the earth and the changing life forms
whose remains are found in successive layers. The youngest layers
are not always found on top, because of folding, breaking, and
uplift of layers. (Page 73)
Although weathered rock is the basic component of soil, the
composition and texture of soil and its fertility and resistance
to erosion are greatly influenced by plant roots and debris, bacteria,
fungi, worms, insects, rodents, and other organisms. (Page 73)
Human activities, such as reducing the amount of forest cover,
increasing the amount and variety of chemicals released into the
atmosphere, and intensive farming, have changed the earths
land, oceans, and atmosphere. Some of these changes have decreased
the capacity of the environment to support some life forms. (Page
Alaska Science Content
Standard Key Element
student who meets the content standard should understand how the earth
changes because of plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, erosion and
deposition, and living things.
Content and Performance Standards: A6, B1
Integration: This topic can be used to reinforce and complement math,
reading, language, social studies, and art skills.