Field Trip - Lawrence Hall of Science

The Lawrence Hall of Science in the hills above UC Berkeley offers fantastic hands-on workshops and exhibits related to earthquakes and plate tectonics. The middle school program, “Earthquakes: Whose Fault Is It?” provides an excellent introduction to seismology. The program begins with a large puzzle of the Earth’s tectonic plates to introduce the idea of plate tectonics and begin a discussion of the location and movement of the tectonic plates. Students then investigate earthquakes and learn to read real and simulated seismograms. Finally, students use seismic recordings to locate the epicenter of an earthquake. Afterward the workshop, the permanent outdoor exhibit, “Forces that Shape the Bay” provides a free-form venue to explore plate tectonics through hands-on exhibits. The other exhibits and planetarium are also worthwhile.

Can understand that the Earth’s crust is divided into large tectonic plates that are in constant motion relative to one another.
Can read a seismogram.
Can differentiate between p and s waves.
Can use the p and s wave arrival time difference to triangulate the epicenter of an earthquake.

Tectonic plate
P wave
S wave

50 minute Earthquakes: Whose Fault Is It? workshop
30 minutes to explore Forces that Shape the Bay exhibits
optional additional time to explore other exhibits and/or the planetarium

Attachment Size
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Lawrence Hall - Lesson and Planning

Teacher Background
When an earthquake strikes, several seismic waves radiate outward from the origin of the earthquake. These seismic waves may be thought of as ripples through the Earth’s crust that are similar to the ripples in a pond after a pebble has been tossed into the water. The origin of the earthquake is known as the focus or hypocenter of the earthquake. The epicenter is the point on the Earth’s surface directly above the hypocenter.

There are 2 major types of waves that travel through Earth. The first is the P wave, the primary or pressure wave. These are lateral compression waves. I think of these as a closely packed line of people waiting for tickets. One person bumps the person next to them who bumps the person next to them and so on through the line. The people represent molecules within the Earth that bump their neighbors as the p wave passes by. The second type of seismic wave is called the S wave, the shear or secondary wave. These travel as a transverse wave. I think of like a human wave at the ball park where one person standing up causes the person next to the to stand up and so on around the park.

P waves travel much faster than S waves, thus, the further you are from the earthquake epicenter, the greater the lag between the two waves. A seismogram is a record of these waves, captured digitally or on paper. The precise arrival time of the P wave and S wave is captured on the seismogram. Using several seismic monitoring stations, one may triangulate the location of any earthquake.

The teachers at the Lawrence Hall of Science are very skilled at leading these programs and quickly cover a lot of ground while maintaining the students’ interest and understanding. They are able to lead students through the plate tectonic causes of earthquakes, then how to read seismograms, then how to find the epicenter of an earthquake.

Planning Guide
To enroll in a program, there is a minimum enrollment of 16 and a maximum of 32 students. It costs $9.50 per student and includes access to the other exhibits, including Forces that Shape the Bay. The workshops occur at set times throughout the day: 10:00 a.m., 11:10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., or 1:30 p.m. Reservations may be made by calling: (510) 642-5134 or you may reserve online.

Lawrence Hall - Going Further

Going Further
There are a large number of ways to reinforce these same concepts back in your classroom.

  • Use the Virtual Earthquake software in the Earthquake Fingerprints lesson.
  • Whose Fault is it Anyway? is a great kinesthetic way to model epicenter finding developed by Eric Muller from the Exploratorium Teachers’ Institute. Students hold hands and propagate a p and s wave through a human chain. The difference in arrival times can be used to figure out who started the earthquake.
  • Finally, the Center for Science Education at the University of California Space Sciences Laboratory has a fantastic compilation of hands-on inquiry activity for the classroom on earthquakes. In addition to the standard stuff on reading seismograms for location and magnitude information, this series of lessons covers everything from using earthquake data to infer things about

Lawrence Hall - Standards

Grade 6
Plate Tectonics and Earth's Structure

1. Plate tectonics accounts for important features of Earth's surface and major geologic events. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know evidence of plate tectonics is derived from the fit of the continents; the location of earthquakes, volcanoes, and midocean ridges; and the distribution of fossils, rock types, and ancient climatic zones.
c. Students know lithospheric plates the size of continents and oceans move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle.
d. Students know that earthquakes are sudden motions along breaks in the crust called faults and that volcanoes and fissures are locations where magma reaches the surface.
e. Students know major geologic events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building, result from plate motions.
f. Students know how to explain major features of California geology (including mountains, faults, volcanoes) in terms of plate tectonics.
g. Students know how to determine the epicenter of an earthquake and know that the effects of an earthquake on any region vary, depending on the size of the earthquake, the distance of the region from the epicenter, the local geology, and the type of construction in the region.

Shaping Earth's Surface
2. Topography is reshaped by the weathering of rock and soil and by the transportation and deposition of sediment. As a basis for understanding this concept:
d. Students know earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and floods change human and wildlife habitats.

Heat (Thermal Energy) (Physical Sciences)
3. Heat moves in a predictable flow from warmer objects to cooler objects until all the objects are at the same temperature. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know energy can be carried from one place to another by heat flow or by waves, including water, light and sound waves, or by moving objects.