Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All Eyes on Me: Public Speaking in the Classroom

Many students today are completely comfortable interacting and sharing online. Although this is an important skill (and a skill we need to hone), it does not replace the importance of being able to speak comfortably in front of a real live audience. The anonymity of online interactions forms a stark contrast to the attention a live speaker receives from an audience. For many students, being in the front of the room alone as the focus of an entire classroom is a scary prospect. No matter how old your students are, you can help them improve their public speaking skills and help alleviate their fears.

There are some wonderful public speaking activities on the Gateway that you can use to teach effective public speaking techniques. Please look at Joann’s Picks this week as well as the resources posted daily on our Facebook and Twitter pages. These resources will be especially useful to language arts, English, or social studies teachers. To complement Joann’s featured resources and the other Gateway resources dedicated to teaching public speaking techniques, I decided to focus my column on integrating more opportunities for public speaking in your regular curriculum. Students can learn to be more comfortable in front of an audience if they get to practice doing it a lot. These ideas should be useful from kindergarten on, because it is never too early to let your students practice speaking in front of their peers.

A key issue to consider before you decide to include more public speaking in your class is: why is public speaking such an essential skill for students? How will they benefit by learning to speak well in front of an audience? I suggest having a brainstorming session about the topic with your students. If they discover the importance of speaking well, they will be more motivated to work to improve their own skills.

Why is it so nerve wracking to speak in front of an audience of peers? As a teacher, I have no problem talking in front of students, but my palms get sweaty thinking about talking in front of the parents at open house. This would be another good topic to discuss and brainstorm with your students.

The following list can help you start thinking of ways to easily implement public speaking within your regular lessons and activities. Please let us know if you have other activities that you use in your classroom. We love to hear from our readers!

Some ideas to try in the primary classroom:
- Do a weekly show-and-tell. You can fit this into your curriculum by having students relate their sharing to a topic of study.
- Choose a student to be a “guest teacher” each week. They will get practice talking in front of the class and they will have a chance to learn the material even more.
- Pass around a grab bag of items (the items may or may not be related to what you are studying in class). When it is their turn, the student will pull an item out of the bag and give a short impromptu speech about what the item is and what some of its uses could be. I like to give points for creativity on this activity. You don’t need different items for each student, just a weird assortment of things will do. It’s fun to put in strange kitchen gadgets, pictures of interesting inventions, and anything else you think the students might like.
- You may have an Odyssey of the Mind program at your school. The program challenges students with long term and spontaneous problems each year. You can use some of the ideas for verbal spontaneous problems in your classroom to help your students get comfortable speaking in front of each other and thinking on their toes. Here is an example of a problem, and there are many more on the site.

Some ideas to try in a secondary classroom: (Many of the primary ideas would work for secondary students as well.)

- A simple way to get students talking is by awarding participation points for answering questions and joining in discussions.
- Assign a presentation for a research project. Require a visual aid (such as a poster, powerpoint presentation, animoto video, etc.) For many students, the visual aid can be helpful for reducing their anxiety.
- If your students seem really uncomfortable in front of the class, start with a video presentation for one assignment and move on to more chances to actually stand up and speak in front of the class.
- Discuss what needs to be in a good presentation, and grade presentations with a rubric that your students help create.

Good luck, and happy speaking! We will see you soon on Facebook and Twitter.

James and the Giant Speech

When I was in fifth grade, my class had to orally present book projects to our classmates – and worse – the sixth grade class as well. This was really our first foray into delivering oral presentations, and it was nerve-wracking. We sat on the gym floor and nervously waited and watched as one by one we fidgeted and mumbled our way through our presentations, trying to ignore the smirks and stares from the sixth graders. I especially remember one boy, who was so nervous about presenting his favorite book, James and the Giant Peach, that he talked way too fast and repeatedly referred to it as “James and the Giant Speech.” While it was funny at the time, I think it aptly illustrates how stressful oral presentations can be.

Every few years, a well-publicized list of the top fears cited by the public is touted on various media outlets. Public speaking nearly always tops the list, followed by lesser fears such as the fear of heights, illness, flying, and even death. An old episode of Seinfeld once had Jerry point out that, since the fear of public speaking outweighs the fear of death for most people, the people delivering eulogies at funerals would apparently prefer to be in the casket, dead, rather than be speaking about the deceased.

Things on the public speaking front have vastly improved since I was in elementary school. Starting in preschool and kindergarten, students are prompted to publicly share weekend news and items of interest through show and tell or sharing times. Students at many schools also regularly take turns in reading the morning announcements, and many K-12 class projects now include a public presentation component. The goal is clear: If students can become comfortable with public speaking at a young age, they are less likely to experience anxiety when presenting or speaking up in class in the future. The benefits of being at ease when speaking in public are many. Teachers cite increased student self-esteem and confidence, as well as the ability to demonstrate leadership, critical thinking, and preparation skills.

There are many ways to incorporate public speaking into the curriculum through the use of plays, classroom skits, role-playing, reviews, debates, the sharing of current events, science experiment debriefings, and other ideas. For homeschooled students, opportunities for public speaking can present more of a challenge. In such cases, local or regional homeschool groups can meet for student debates and presentations. If homeschool groups aren’t available, many students find opportunities for public speaking through their local churches or other places of worship (weekly readings, etc.), community theater, leading book discussions at the local library, and other ideas.

My picks this week offer resources on incorporating public speaking into the curriculum and honing student public speaking skills. As always, I’ll be featuring many additional lessons, activities, and other resources on public speaking throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Peggy and I are also interested to hear from you regarding what types of lessons you’d like to see featured in our columns here on The Gateway. Don’t be shy – drop us a note on our Facebook, Twitter, or blog pages and let us know.

Daily Book Boosts
Subjects: English Language Arts, Public Speaking
Grade: 3-5
Each day at the end of their independent reading time, students give Book Boosts, which are one-minute raves about books they've read. These Book Boosts are easy ways to suggest a multitude of titles to students, and they act as a way for students to have something to think about as they read. It’s also a great way to get students used to getting up and speaking in front of their peers. This activity is a product of ReadWriteThink, which offers free reading and language arts lesson plans. Each lesson is peer-reviewed by teachers and members of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). This lesson is aligned to NCTE/IRA Content Standards.

Impromptu Speeches
Subjects: English, Public Speaking
Grade: 9-12
An impromptu speech is delivered without preparation or thought ahead of time. In this lesson, students will hone their quick-thinking skills as they formulate an impromptu speech about a given topic. This lesson was produced by Scholastic, publishers of trade books and educational titles, as well as lessons, teaching resources, and other products.

How to Teach Students to Present an Oral Report
Subjects: English Language Arts, Public Speaking, Research Skills
Grade: 6
In this lesson, students will recognize how to research and present an oral report. Students learn about ways to capture their audience’s attention, report organization, and ways to support their main points. This lesson is offered by Hot Chalk, a free online learning management system designed specifically for K-12 educators. Hot Chalk also offers free lesson plans and educational activities for teachers and students.

~Joann's Picks - 4/22/2011~

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Keeping the Stories Alive: Studying the Holocaust

There are 350,000 survivors of the Holocaust alive today...
There are 350,000 experts who just want to be useful with the remainder of their lives. Please listen to the words and the echoes and the ghosts. And please teach this in your schools.
--Steven Spielberg (Academy Award acceptance speech)

I was very lucky to be able to visit the United States Holocaust Museum during a trip I took to Washington D.C. during high school. The visit made a huge impact on me, since it put real faces and voices with the events I had read about in books like The Diary of Anne Frank. These weren’t long-dead historical figures, and some of them are still alive today to tell their story. History standards often emphasize the importance of allowing students to draw learning from primary sources, which are readily available for the subject of the Holocaust. You might not be able to take your students to Washington D.C. and you might not be able to bring a Holocaust survivor into your school for a presentation, but there are plenty of recordings, pictures, interviews, and other interactive resources you can use in your class to create a virtual field trip or presentation. According to the Florida Center for Instructional Technology’s Holocaust teacher’s guide, “Personal accounts by survivors of the Holocaust are powerful. They connect us, person to person, with an era in history that is difficult, yet necessary, to comprehend. Survivor testimony translates the countless unimaginable victims into a single person's feelings and thoughts.”

Why should you include the study of the horrible events of the Holocaust in your classroom? Besides the fact that it is an important chapter of history, the study of these events will teach your students real-life lessons about humanity. It will also contribute to one of the main goals of education, which is to create responsible citizens. These are real events that happened to real people, some of who are alive today. Students may be able to relate to these people and their stories and empathize with their situation. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, studying the Holocaust piques student interest because it raises questions of the issues that adolescents are facing every day in their lives. These issues include “fairness, justice, individual identity, peer pressure, conformity, indifference, and obedience.”

To learn more about how to best tackle the subject of the Holocaust, please visit the education section of the museum’s site. They have guidelines for teaching, important subjects to cover, and a comprehensive online museum about the Holocaust. The site also has resources and lesson plans. Their Holocaust Encyclopedia includes first-hand information about many of the victims.

The Florida Center for Instructional Technology has also put together an excellent collection of resources for teaching about the Holocaust in different grade levels. These resources have been catalogued on the Gateway so you can easily find them. The following link will take you to their main page: As you browse through the site you will find many sections of teaching material. There are sections dedicated to the people involved in the Holocaust, the arts during the time, and a collection of web-based resources for teachers.

If you search for Holocaust on The Gateway, you will find plenty more resources to complement the collections of tools, primary sources, and other resources I highlighted above. Also, be sure to look at the resources Joann featured in her column. There were some wonderful ideas that you can use. I do suggest reading the guidelines for teaching on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum first. It won’t take a lot of time, and it will help you understand how to best reach your students when tackling this difficult subject. The survivors of the Holocaust are aging. Each generation of students studying the subject has fewer resources than the last, so it is up to educators to keep the stories and lessons learned alive.

~Peggy's Corner - 4/15/2011~

Never to Forget

For the past several years, a survivor of the Holocaust has made an annual trip to our intermediate and middle schools to speak about his experience at Auschwitz. It’s an intensely powerful and moving experience for our sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, and it’s meant to be. The presenter – now 90 years old – has told his story so often that he’s able to describe life under the Nazi regime and at Auschwitz quietly and without much emotion. The students, however, sometimes gasp, sob, or seek the comforting hand of a classmate beside them. Though the details of events at the death camp are often difficult for the students to hear, they are ultimately grateful for the experience, and many cite it as one of the most profound events they’ve ever attended.

Information about the Holocaust – the systematic slaughter of millions of Jews, gypsies, Poles, Soviets, gays, people with disabilities, and those resistant to supporting Nazi Germany’s policies – is often first received by students as something akin to the plot of a bad horror novel. Their initial reaction to first learning of the Final Solution is often disbelief. The sheer magnitude of the atrocities, and the barbarism with which they were committed, is unthinkable. Yet the unthinkable did occur, and one of the many legacies left by the Holocaust is that we are bound by our humanity to fight hatred and stop atrocities. All humans deserve the right to live their lives in dignity and peace, and the Holocaust has illustrated only too well what can happen when that fundamental right is challenged. The lessons posed by the Holocaust offer a broad range of learning opportunities across the curriculum, from world history, literature, religion, and science, to psychology, character education, social responsibility, and other areas. The possibilities are limitless.

This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day will be observed on May 1. It’s a time to remember the victims, honor the courage of those who resisted the madness, and reflect on ways to end bigotry and intolerance. The lessons learned from the Holocaust must never be forgotten, especially as current genocides, such as that in Darfur, continue to plague the world. This week, I’m highlighting three Holocaust resources from The Gateway that are age appropriate and that can be used across the curriculum. As always, we’ll be featuring many additional lessons, activities, and other Holocaust-related resources throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Please be sure to check those pages regularly, as we feature new resources 2-3 times each day.

The Diary of Anne Frank: Teacher’s Guide
Subjects: English, World history
Grade: 7-12
This guide encourages students to regard Anne Frank's diary as both an historical document and a literary work. It is intended to provide middle school and high school teachers with strategies and materials that support classroom viewing and discussion of The Diary of Anne Frank, based on new information about Anne’s family, life, and death. Discussion questions, activities, reproducible worksheets, and assignment ideas are supplemented by an extensive listing of resources for further exploration. This resource was written in support of the 2010 PBS Masterpiece film adaptation of Frank's diary, addressing historical context, revised diary passages, and exploring the diary form. This resource was created by WGBH, the Boston PBS affiliate. WGBH is PBS’s single largest producer of educational TV programs and Internet content, and offers scores of lesson plans and other materials for classroom and home use.

Investigating the Holocaust: A Collaborative Inquiry Project
Subjects: English Language Arts, World history, Research skills
Grade: 6-8
As students progress though this inquiry project, they explore a variety of resource texts, images, sounds, photos, and other artifacts as they learn about the Holocaust. Working collaboratively, they investigate the materials, prepare response to share orally with the class, and produce a topic-based newspaper to complete their research. This lesson was produced by ReadWriteThink, which offers free peer-reviewed lesson plans aligned to NCTE/IRA content standards.

A Holocaust Monument
Subjects: Math/Geometry, World history, Architecture
Grade: 3-12
In this activity students use geometric shapes or forms to create a Holocaust monument. The lesson is appropriate after students have studied the Holocaust enough that they are ready to express some personal response to what they have learned. The activity is provided at three levels of increasing complexity. Level one uses simple shapes and is appropriate for elementary grades, level two utilizes three dimensional forms, and level three assumes that the students have some understanding of architecture. This activity is the product of the Florida Center of Technology (FCIT) at the University of South Florida’s College of Education. FCIT works with educators to integrate technology into the curriculum, and provides training opportunities as well as lesson plans and educational activities.

~Joann's Picks - 4/15/2011~

Monday, April 11, 2011

EXTRA! EXTRA! Student Reporters Dig Into Tsunamis

With all of the news coverage of the recent tsunami and its aftermath in Japan, many teachers are looking for ways to explain the phenomenon to their students. Students are seeing videos and pictures of the devastation in Japan, and many of them don’t completely understand the science behind this type of weather disaster. This lack of understanding can lead to fear in students (and teachers) of all ages. Joann has been collecting resources for The Gateway to help teach students about tsunamis. The resources she is featuring in her column and social media posts this week look at tsunamis from many different angles. She has found a really nice variety of resources, and I really like the way they integrate the study of tsunamis into subjects ranging from art to science.

It was hard for me to pick out my favorite activities to use in the classroom. These are all great stand-alone resources, but there are so many different aspects of tsunamis that might spark students’ interests, I thought it would be neat to allow students to choose which angle of tsunamis they want to study. To allow this choice, I needed to figure out how to combine ideas from lots of Joann’s picks into one activity. I wanted to create an activity that could be adapted for many different age groups and that would appeal to students with a wide range of interests. It would include creative and critical thinking and it would involve students teaching others about what they learned, the best form of learning in my opinion.

Tsunami News Broadcast

In this activity, students will create news broadcasts to explain tsunamis to a selected audience. You might choose a group of younger students, other students in the class, or parents as the audience. Students could present their newscasts live, as a video, as an audio podcast, a glog, or you might want to give them the choice of creating a newspaper to present.

Choose four to six tsunami-related topics. (I did this by looking at the topics covered in this week’s featured resources on The Gateway.) Create a list of these topics to distribute to small groups of students with a few suggested links or research ideas for each topic. Explain to the students that they are a news team responsible for creating a news broadcast covering a few different aspects of tsunamis to help their viewers better understand the crisis in Japan.

I have found that it is very beneficial to let students teach one another, and this is a fun, creative way for students to do that. One strength of this type of activity is that it allows the students to make choices. If you select 6 possible topics, students could choose 4 of those topics to cover in their news broadcast. This way, they are spending their time researching things that interest them the most.

The following is a list of topic ideas for students to include in their broadcasts. There are many more possibilities, so have fun and use your imagination!

The science of a tsunami: If students understand the science behind a tsunami, their fears of a similar event occurring near them might be alleviated. Look at resources like this to find out what causes these giant waves and to get ideas for visual representations to use in a news broadcast. The NSTA also collected some good resources and here are the top 3 sites from Free Technology for Teachers.

Fact v. Fiction: Students will need to use critical thinking to determine whether the things they see in the media are true or false. Look here to help students create a section of the broadcast devoted to how to decide what is real. This is especially important when looking at the reports about the nuclear reactors. This lesson from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission explains a lot about how nuclear power works.

History of Tsunamis: There have been other major tsunamis throughout history. How do those tsunamis compare to the recent event in Japan? Here is an example of the type of resource that might be useful for this topic.

Survivor studies: A study of the stories of survivors might give them empathy for the people affected by the disaster. Look at sites like this to find some stories of survivors of natural disasters to include in a broadcast.

Making a Difference: A service project with the goal of helping tsunami victims could give people a sense of a purpose instead of fear. What can students do to help? Discuss ideas that have been implemented or that students could implement to help tsunami victims. See lessons like this and others from for some ideas.

Will it Happen To Me? Reading Rockets collected resources to help students understand tsunamis and whether or not one might occur near their home. Students might want to dedicate a section of their broadcast to this topic.

This is just a beginning of a plan. You might have some better ideas, and if you do, we would love for you to share! Join us on Facebook and Twitter to learn even more. We will share any presentations, podcasts, glogs, or pictures you share with us to inspire other teachers to discuss this important topic in the classroom.

~Peggy's Corner - 4/8/2010~

Sunday, April 10, 2011


The recent earthquake in Japan has vividly illustrated just how powerful natural disasters can be. Most of the horrific, widespread damage was caused not by the earthquake itself, but by the resulting tsunami. After the earthquake, residents living on the northeastern coast of Japan had only minutes to seek high ground before the waves came crashing in. Many never made it.

Tsunamis are large ocean waves of displaced water generally caused by earthquakes or volcanoes. In order to generate a tsunami, an earthquake must occur near the ocean or beneath the ocean floor. While tsunamis can occur in any ocean, the Pacific is a particularly fertile area for tsunamis because of the geologic volatility of the Ring of Fire zone, which rims the Pacific. The number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in this region are caused by the convergence of three tectonic plates, which continuously move and shift against one another. Once a tsunami is triggered, the waves can reach staggering heights – some tsunami wave heights have been recorded in excess of 100 feet. Most deep ocean tsunamis, however, rarely exceed 3 feet in height, but are characterized instead by their length. In such cases, a tsunami can measure hundreds of miles or more from wave crest to wave crest, and can neither be seen from the air nor be felt by ships, despite moving at speeds exceeding 500 miles per hour.

In science classes, the study of tsunamis has applications in geology, earth science, and physics. While students most often learn about tsunamis in science class, the study of this phenomenon can be applied to other subject areas as well. In schools where character education is part of the curriculum, learning about how tsunamis have affected communities in Japan and other areas can generate service learning projects and overall discussion of how people can help those touched by tragedy. In social studies, students can learn about the geographic regions affected by tsunamis, and how the local cultures have adapted to live with the threat of big waves. Students in Language Arts and English classes can write poems or descriptive essays about tsunamis, attempting to capture the power and violence of such force in words. In art classes, students can create artwork similar to tsunami-inspired pieces by artists Katsushika Hokusai and Sandra Hansen. Math classes, too, can use information about tsunamis to calculate wave height, speed, and the local times that various locations could be affected by walls of water.

Below are three resources on tsunamis for various grade ranges. Throughout the week, I’ll be featuring many additional lessons and activities on tsunamis in a variety of subject areas on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Please be sure to give them a look.

Subjects: Earth science, Physical science
Grade: K-2
Young children should understand that earthquakes can cause tsunamis, and if they live near the water, they should be prepared to go inland and uphill to high ground. In this lesson, younger students are introduced to tsunamis, and participate in hands-on activities to demonstrate the characteristics of waves. This lesson was produced by the American Red Cross, the nation’s premier emergency response organization. In addition to providing relief and community services, the Red Cross also offers educational materials on disaster preparedness and response.

Monster Waves
Subjects: Geography, Earth science, Math
Grade: 6-8
In this activity, students will build a tabletop fishing village and use it to visualize the relative height and affects of gigantic waves called tsunamis. This lesson is offered by the Houghton Mifflin Education Place, where teachers and families can find K-12 education resources including lesson plans and activities.

Tsunami: Waves of Destruction
Subjects: Math, Physical science, Geography, Earth science
Grade: 9-12
In this lesson, students use tsunami time travel maps to predict how long it will take a tsunami to reach the shore. This lesson was produced by The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), which conducts interdisciplinary research and provides advisory service to policy makers, industry, and the public. VIMS offers educational resources through The Bridge, a companion web site.

~Joann's Picks - 4/9/2011~

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On?

This week we have a guest columnist, Terry Smithson the Director of Marketing for JES & Co., covering the topic of earthquakes. Peggy will be back in a few weeks.

On October 17, 1989 at 5:04 P.M., I was in the upper deck at Candlestick Park in San Francisco for game 5 of the World Series. I had a childhood friend that was visiting from North Carolina and had never seen a professional baseball game. Needless to say, he did not see this one either. The game was postponed due to a 7.1 magnitude earthquake centered on the San Andreas Fault in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Loma Prieta Peak which is about 50 miles south of San Francisco. This quake only lasted between 10-15 seconds. To put it in perspective, the recent quake in Japan lasted for just over 2 minutes.

In college, geology was one of my favorite classes. I really enjoyed learning about the different ways in which the earth can change and move, as well as the reasons behind these changes. The world is truly an amazing place, and nature's effects, such as earthquakes, leave students with many questions. Why, for example, does the ground shake during an earthquake? Why does the earth shake more in places like Japan, and less often in places like Kansas? Why are there lots of smaller earthquakes, or aftershocks, after a large earthquake? Once students start asking questions such as these about earthquakes, the floodgates are likely to open, paving the way for additional questions about this mysterious and powerful event.

Here are some really fun activity driven resources focused on answering these questions and many more.
Musical Plates
Grade: 6-12
Earthquakes, a scientific and physical phenomenon, affect our lives in many ways. In this project, students use Real-Time earthquake and volcano data from the Internet to explore the relationship between earthquakes, plate tectonics, and volcanoes. This resource also has many links including links to seismicity maps for each state. This resource is from the Center for Improved Engineering & Science Education.

What’s Shaking?
Grade: 6
This lesson is a mini-unit on earthquakes. Students will watch videos, complete drawings and diagrams, and work in collaborative groups as they investigate such things as faults and the causes and effects of earthquakes. Students will also learn about seismic waves and how earthquakes are measured. There are also suggestions to extend the lesson as well. This resource is from the Alabama Learning Exchange.

Grade: 3-12
What are earthquakes? Why do they occur? and Why can't we predict them? Although we still can't predict when an earthquake will happen, we have learned much about earthquakes as well as the Earth itself from studying them. We have learned how to pinpoint the locations of earthquakes, how to accurately measure their sizes, and how to build flexible structures that can withstand the strong shaking produced by earthquakes and protect our loved ones. The homepage of this resource has some really fun links as an exhibit map. This is how you navigate through the resource. This resource is from the Tech Museum of Innovation.

Earthquakes: A Whole Lot of Quakin’ Goin’ On
Grade: 9-12
In this activity, students will delve into seismology, the study of earthquakes, learning about and contrasting two scales used by seismologists to categorize and compare these quaking forces of nature. Students will review firsthand accounts from people who experienced an earthquake, then employ one of these scales to categorize and map the earthquake's intensity. This resource is from National Geographic and includes related links and suggestions for extending the lesson.

These are just a few of the many resources available on The Gateway involving the study of earthquakes. Joann has chosen many more resources to feature throughout the week on Facebook and Twitter, so please join us there to learn more!

~Peggy's Corner (by Terry Smithson) - 4/1/2011~

Japan – Earthquakes

Earthquakes are mysterious things. We understand why earthquakes happen, but still lack the ability to predict the magnitude of a quake or when such an event might occur. Once an earthquake begins, current technology can only provide a few seconds’ warning before severe shaking arrives at a specific location. For most people, the first sign of an impending earthquake occurs only once it’s begun.

Severe earthquakes have been mentioned throughout history, with the earliest recorded quake noted in China in 1177 BC. Scientific research into earthquakes didn’t really commence until the 18th century, where one commonly accepted theory held that earthquakes were caused by subterranean air surging out of vast caves beneath the Earth’s surface. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that the notion of plate tectonics began to develop, and for scientists to begin to understand what really caused an earthquake. Earthquakes are nearly always caused by the friction and stress associated with tectonic plate movements; as plates continuously strain and push against each other, a sudden release of energy caused by one plate slipping over another can result in an earthquake.

The 21st century thus far has spawned some massive earthquakes around the globe; as of this writing, Japan alone has seen 19 earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 and above in the last ten years. The island nation is located in the infamous Ring of Fire, a volatile region that rims the Pacific Ocean for roughly 25,000 miles and is notably home to 452 volcanoes and 90% of our planet’s earthquakes. Japan lies on the edge of the junction to three tectonic plates – the Philippine, Pacific, and Eurasian Plates – which continuously shift and grind over and under one another.

Like all disasters, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami have an effect on populations far from the stricken geographic region. Millions of people around the world are moved emotionally by the tragedy, and donate to Japanese relief efforts to signify their support and human solidarity. Traces of radiation were found on planes from Japan at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, docks and vessels were destroyed on the coasts of California and Hawaii due to waves caused by the tsunami, and the destruction from the earthquake and tsunami will have economic repercussions worldwide. And according to NASA, the March 11 earthquake was powerful enough to shift the Earth’s mass so that our planet spins a bit faster, thus reducing the length of each day by 1.6 microseconds. Thus the scope of one event – an earthquake – has created a ripple effect of significant proportions throughout the world.

My picks this week focus on understanding earthquakes and their impact on local and distant communities. Throughout the week, I’ll be featuring many additional lessons and activities on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please check those pages for lots of ideas.

Table-Top Earthquakes
Subjects: Geology, Earth science
Grade: K-12
Using an earthquake machine (materials list is included in the resource), the teacher can demonstrate how the machine’s sliding motion mimics the intermittent fault slippage that characterizes the earthquake fault zones. This demonstration of seismology for teachers and students can be used to expand lessons in earth science, physics, math, social studies, and geography. This activity was produced by the U.S. Geological Survey, a science organization that provides all types of information to scientists, policymakers, and others. Additionally, the USGS helps to help educate the public about natural resources, natural hazards, geospatial data, and other issues through lesson plans, maps, and data.

Building Structure Exercise: Designing Structures To Perform Well During an Earthquake
Subjects: Engineering, Geology, Physical science
Grade: 6-12
Did you ever notice that after an earthquake some structures have a lot of damage while others have little? There are different factors that affect how structures perform during an earthquake. In this activity, students will learn about the effect of different variables on building performance during a simulated earthquake. They’ll learn about what physical forces are at work during an earthquake, and brainstorm ways to strengthen the buildings to withstand an earthquake. This activity was produced by MCEER Information Systems, a national center dedicated to the creation and development of new technologies to equip
communities to become more disaster resilient in the face of earthquakes and other extreme events.

You Don’t Need a Seismograph to Study Earthquakes
Subjects: Geology, Physical science
Grade: 7-12
Earthquakes are difficult to predict, and most of our scientific investigation occurs after the event. This lesson will help students to understand earthquakes. Students will simulate p waves (longitudinal) & s waves (transverse) using a slinky and rope. They will simulate one of the three types of lithospheric boundaries and investigate plate tectonics at some select web sites. This lesson is aligned to national education standards, and was produced by PBS NewsHour, which covers national and international news. NewsHour also provides educational resources for both teachers and students.

~ Joann's Picks - 4/1/2011~