Lesson Plan: Seismic Smackdown

In this Project-Based Learning (PBL) unit, students will learn about plate tectonics and how the Earth’s plates move and interact. Students will also learn what causes earthquakes.

Devon Rose,
Loren Kent,
STEMwork Scholars

7 weeks

90-minute periods

Module Plans Calendar



  • Understand the structure of the earth and how interactions of
    constructive and destructive forces have resulted in changes in the surface of the Earth over time and the effects of the lithosphere on humans.
  • Sci: 6.E.2.2 I can explain how crustal plates and ocean basins are
    formed, move and interact using earthquakes, heat flow and volcanoes to reflect forces within the earth.

Driving Question

As a class, students will generate their own Driving Question using the Nat Geo Question Formulation Technique.

Example: How can we create an earthquake-proof structure?

Entry Event

  1. Mosa Mack Mystery Activity

Students watch a short mystery and work through various steps to solve the mystery on Mosa Mack’s website.

  1. Earth Movers Lab: Plate Tectonics in Action

Public Product

Earthquake-Resistant Structure Model & Test

Resources and Materials

  • Laptops
  • Internet
  • Graham crackers
  • Whipped cream
  • Food coloring
  • Aluminum pans
  • Jell-O
  • PBS “Building Wonders” clip

Formative Assessment 1

Mosa Mack Plate Tectonics Lab

Mosa Mack Plate Tectonics Quiz

  • Pangaea
  • Plate tectonics
  • Key vocabulary

Formative Assessment 2

Plate Tectonics Interactive Slides Student Copy

Plate Tectonics Interactive Slides Teacher Copy

Earth Movers Quiz

  • Plate tectonics
  • Plate boundaries
  • Crustal plates/features

Summative Assessment 1

Seismic Smackdown Lab Report/Earthquake-Resistant Structure

  • Understanding of the cause of earthquakes
  • Plate movement

Summative Assessment 2


  • Plate tectonics
  • Plate boundaries
  • Crustal plates/features
  • Pangaea

Project Calendar

Day 1Mosa Mack

  • Lesson 1: Animation (on computer)
    • 45 minutes
  • Begin Lesson 2: Lab (on paper)
Day 2
Day 3Two rotations:

  1. Earth Movers: Plate Tectonics in Action (Student copy) Graham cracker Kesler engagement (plate tectonics) 
  2. Plate Tectonics Slideshow w/ notes (Student copy)

Plate Tectonics Slideshow (Teacher copy)

Day 4Two rotations:

  1. Finishing plate tectonics slideshow (#2 llink above) 
  2. Mosa Mack: A Rumbling Earth: Earthquakes & Volcanoes Lesson 1
Day 5**Add guest speaker here**

Review lab report/Seismic Smackdown Challenge slides

Get into groups

  1. Watch PBS “Building Wonders” clip and take notes (slide 5)
  2. Research earthquake-resistant buildings and take notes 

Begin designing the structure in groups of 3-4 students

Day 6
  • Quiz (make your own copy for use)
  • Build earthquake-resistant structure
Day 7
  • Test earthquake-proof structures 
  • Complete lab report


  • Invite a community partner in to speak to students.
  • Be sure to provide enough time for a prototype, feedback from experts, and revision before final.
  • Revise design requirements/challenge restrictions as needed.
  • Use scrum or project tasks log to manage progress.
  • Conduct a mid-stream check in for peer evaluation on group members’ engagement and progress.