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Dr. Christie's STEM Course: Earth and Space

Sample Middle School Unit: Earthquakes
earthquake terms
Essential/Guiding Questions

Earthquakes are one of the earth forces that change the earth daily. In this unit, we will answer the following questions:

  • What are earthquakes?
  • What causes earthquakes?
  • How are earthquakes traced and measured?
  • What were the most well-known earthquakes and why were they famous/infamous?
  • How do earthquakes change the earth's surface and why is this important to humans?
Standards: AZ Earth and Space, Grade 7

Stand 6: Earth and Space Science

Concept 1: Structure of the Earth

  • PO 2: Describe the properties and composition of the earth's crust, mantle, and core
  • PO 3: Explain processes involved in the formation of the earth's structure

Concept 2: Earth's Processes and Systems

  • PO 3: Analyze the evidence that lithosphere plate movements occur
  • PO 4: Explain lithospheric plate movements
  • PO 6: Describe how earthquakes are measured
Adaptive Curriculum Activity Objects Used
  • Earthquakes: Measuring Magnitude
  • Earthquake! Where Was It
Timeline for the Unit

This timeline for this three-week unit is outlined below.


Web: What We Know, What We Want to Know
Earthquake Movie
Introduction to Earthquakes Powerpoint™
Web Simulations
Earthquake Vocabulary:
Wordle Examples: Example 1 | Example 2
EduCaching: Earthquake Clues/Questions GPS Receivers
Exploration of Web Resources to Answer
Day 4 Questions (Teams)

Creating Google Maps Curricular Unit
Laptops or Lab
Adaptive Curriculum Activity Object
Earthquakes: Measuring Magnitude
(Teacher Directed)
Real-Time Tracking of Earthquakes
Viewing Earthquake Photos and Movies
Laptops or Lab
Famous/Infamous Earthquakes Powerpoint™
Adaptive Curriculum Activity Object
Earthquake! Where Was It
Laptops or Lab (Each student does lesson)
GoogleEarth or GoogleMap Tour of Earthquakes Whiteboard
Creating Reporting Teams, Deciding on Reporting Topics
Gathering Data and Creating Presentations Laptops
Sharing Content Presentations Whiteboard




Earthforce is the pushing and pulling in the core, crust, or water of the Earth that causes motion like eruptions, earthquakes, or floods. Earthforces are constantly at work. Every day, somewhere, the core, crust, or water is pushing and pulling and causing motion. Earth is called a restless planet as it is continually influenced by the sun, gravitational forces, processes emanating from deep within the core, and by complex interactions with oceans and atmospheres. Changes can be quite dramatic (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides) are seemingly unpredictable, and often leading to loss of life and property damage. View the Earthquake Animation that shows cumulative global earthquake occurrences from 1960 through 1995. Earthquakes are shown as yellow dots. Credit: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio. Or view this Flash animation that shows the relationship between the earthquake focus and the earthquake epicenter found directly above the focus. Also displayed in the animation are the fault plane, fault scarp, and fault trace.


Earthquakes can be caused by two faults that meet or crash together. They are also caused by volcanic activity. The lava flow underneath the Earth's crust pushes up the ground, and pushes the lava out, causing mild, maybe even disastrous, earthquakes. Earthquakes cause disasters such as floods, fires, snow avalanches, rockslides and landslides that occasionally destroy buildings, highways and bridges and kill many people. The damage to buildings and highways due to earthquakes averages well over ten billion dollars each year.


When an earthquake's magnitude is less than 4.5, it is hardly felt. When an earthquake reaches a magnitude of 7.0 or greater, it is very disastrous. Since 1975, there have been more than 300 earthquakes with a magnitude of 7.0 or higher. The largest earthquake in the 1900's was recorded at 9.7 in Southern Chile in 1960. Sometimes the disasters that are caused by earthquakes are worse than the earthquakes themselves. In the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, more than five hundred blocks of city building burned to the ground within three days after the earthquake. Earthquakes are continuously rocking the earth. The USGS Earthquake Hazards Site is a comprehensive and reliable source of detailed information about earthquakes, past and present.

Earthquake Vocabulary


Refer to EarthQuake Vocabulary for explanation of terms.

Wordle Vocabulary Examples: Example 1 | Example 2

EduCaching Activity
Google Earth Earthquake Resources
Google Map and GoogleEarth Activity
Online Resources
What is a Fault?
What Is An Earthquake?
How Earthquakes Are Measured
Famous Earthquakes
Tracking Earthquakes in Real-Time
Maps of Major Worldwide Earthquakes
Google Earth Maps
Google Earth KML Files
Earthquake Movies and Photos
Career Options
  • Current Research Projects:
    • Borehole Geophysics and Rock Mechanics
      Using borehole geophysical measurements in conjunction with laboratory studies, scientists study heat flow, stress, fluid pressure, and the mechanical behavior of fault-zone materials at seismogenic depths to yield improved models of the earthquake cycle.
    • Earthquake Geology & Paleoseismology
      Earthquake geology in the broad sense is the study of the history, effects, and mechanics of earthquakes within and on the Earth's crust.
    • Regional & Whole-Earth Structure
      Seismic waves from earthquakes, man-made sources both local and distant, computer generated simulations and geophysical surveys are used to determine local, crustal, mantle and core structures of the earth.
    • Strong-motion Seismology, Site Response & Ground Motion
      Strong motion seismology uses special sensors, called accelerometers, to record large-amplitude ground motions and the response of engineered structures to these motions.

Interactive Resources

Teacher Resources