Students are introduced to our planet's structure and its dynamic system of natural forces through an examination of the natural hazards of earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, tsunamis, floods and tornados, as well as avalanches, fires, hurricanes and thunderstorms. They see how these natural events become disasters when they impact people, and how engineers help to make people safe from them. Students begin by learning about the structure of the Earth; they create clay models showing the Earth's layers, see a continental drift demo, calculate drift over time, and make fault models. They learn how earthquakes happen; they investigate the integrity of structural designs using model seismographs. Using toothpicks and mini-marshmallows, they create and test structures in a simulated earthquake on a tray of Jell-O. Students learn about the causes, composition and types of volcanoes, and watch and measure a class mock eruption demo, observing the phases that change a mountain's shape. Students learn that the different types of landslides are all are the result of gravity, friction and the materials involved. Using a small-scale model of a debris chute, they explore how landslides start in response to variables in material, slope and water content. Students learn about tsunamis, discovering what causes them and makes them so dangerous. Using a table-top-sized tsunami generator, they test how model structures of different material types fare in devastating waves. Students learn about the causes of floods, their benefits and potential for disaster. Using riverbed models made of clay in baking pans, students simulate the impact of different river volumes, floodplain terrain and levee designs in experimental trials. They learn about the basic characteristics, damage and occurrence of tornadoes, examining them closely by creating water vortices in soda bottles. They complete mock engineering analyses of tornado damage, analyze and graph US tornado damage data, and draw and present structure designs intended to withstand high winds.
Material Type: Activity/Lab, Lesson Plan