The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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Waves Project: Earthquakes and Tsunamis

[Note: Scroll down to the Files section for downloadable lesson/project materials.]

Background

I’ve been reading and learning a lot this year about the benefits of incorporating authentic tasks, project based learning, data, analysis, synthesis, and scientific discourse into the classroom. As we approach the end of the year, I’ve finally felt confident enough to try putting together my own project to fit with the principles I want to apply in my physics classroom.

Today is Day 1… I’ll post again with a reflection on how the whole thing goes.

This project is taking place about halfway through our unit on Waves — after mechanical waves but before electromagnetic waves. My hope is that students would be able to apply what they have learned to an authentic task that mimicked how science is really used to study the world and try to help people.

I want to emphasize that I am still near the end of my BTR residency year and M.Ed. program while designing this project. This is the first time that I attempted designing a project of this scale, and also the first time teaching it. I would definitely appreciate any feedback or suggestions for further refinement.

Project Overview

The project is based on the 2004 Sumatra Earthquake and Tsunami that devastated much of South East Asia. Students are given an introduction to earthquakes and tsunamis, provided with a project overview handout, and shown some video clips and photos.

Students are told that a massive earthquake and tsunami scenario has just occurred in the Indian Ocean, and that their lab groups are an investigative team that will be responsible for constructing a “What Happened” story using scientific analysis. Each team is assigned a particular city of interest: Banda Aceh (Indonesia), Chennai (India), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Mogadishu (Somalia), Padang (Indonesia), or Trincomalee (Sri Lanka).

The first part of the Work Packet involves background reading in the textbook 1, interpretation questions, and group discussion. The teams then receive two “technical memos”: one from the USGS National Earthquake Information Center, and one from the NOAA Tsunami Program. The data, properly interpreted, allow students to calculate the basic features of the earthquake p-waves and s-waves as well as some properties of the tsunami wave (such as arrival time at various cities, difference in speed and amplitude between open ocean and shore, etc). The third component of the project is an interpretation and discussion segment, followed by a final poster to present the final conclusions.

Design

This section describes my thought process and sources while putting together the project.

Lesson plans for every day of the project include silent individual work and think time. This is an access issue — many students prefer and may even require individual reflection and a chance to organize their thoughts before being ready to participate in group work.

I also have planned time into each day to allow for class-wide or group discussion designed to share information between groups, make sense of new vocabulary or concepts as a class, and engage in dialogue. Video clips, photographs, and eyewitness accounts from the real 2004 Sumatra disaster are also used to engage and interest students, as well as to maintain connections to the big ideas about how science is used in the real world.

Alignment With Standards

As per UbD philosophy, I started with the standards for which I wanted students to show evidence of applied knowledge. Based on where we were in the unit, I selected the following Massachusetts Physics Framework standards for focus:

  • 4.1 Describe the measurable properties of waves (velocity, frequency, wavelength, amplitude, period) and explain the relationships among them. Recognize examples of simple harmonic motion.
  • 4.3 Distinguish between the two types of mechanical waves, transverse and longitudinal.
  • 4.5 Recognize that mechanical waves generally move faster through a solid than through a liquid and faster through a liquid than through a gas.

And though they are not yet binding on BPS, I figured while I was at it to take a look at the relevant Next Generation Science Standards as well. I did not consider NGSS when designing the project; these suggested alignments are made in retrospect.

NGSS Dimension 1 – Practices2:

  • Practice 1 – Asking Questions
  • Practice 4 – Analyzing and Interpreting Models
  • Practice 6 – Constructing Explanations

NGSS Dimension 3 – Core Ideas3:

  • HS-PS4-1. Use mathematical representations to support a claim regarding relationships among the frequency, wavelength, and speed of waves traveling in various media.

 Technical Aspects

Nearly all scientific and technical information that I used concerning the physics of earthquakes/tsunamis, including how they are studied and measured, was found at the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program and the NOAA Tsunami webpages. Specifics for the 2004 Sumatra earthquake and tsunami, which formed the baseline data set I started from, were either directly on, or linked from, the USGS 2004 Sumatra quake page and the NOAA Center for Tsunami Research.

Earthquake p-wave travel times were estimated based on data from the USGS National Earthquake Information Center. S-wave arrival times were estimated using a base speed of 4.5 km/s, and then adjusted lower based on the distance from the epicenter to the arrival point. This accounts for the fact that both P and S waves move faster through the deeper layers of the earth.

My initial thought was to have students interpret a real seismogram trace from the USGS archives. However, I had to balance the complexity of teaching/learning all the features of a real trace with the objectives of the project. Since the point of the project was to learn about and apply knowledge of waves (not earth science per se), I decided to sacrifice some realism of the seismology aspect and focus on wave physics.

I made my own simplified seismogram trace in Matlab using a base sine function for each of the p-waves and s-waves. Wave parameters (amplitude, frequency) were taken from representative values for the Sumatra quake. Both waveforms were then perturbed with an additional, superposed sine wave with a randomized small amplitude, in order to give the waveform the look of “real” noisy data. I know it doesn’t quote look like a real seismogram trace would (especially the duration), but again, my focus for now was to see how they handle interpreting the wave information.

Tsunami arrival times were estimated from a simulated reconstruction of the wavefront propagation done by Japan’s AIST.

Surface distances from the epicenter (3.316°N, 95.854°E) to the selected cities of interest were calculated using the Latitude/Longitude Distance Converter from the National Weather Service.

Tsunami heights reaching the shores of the selected cities were eyeballed from a mix of published simulation results and from Googling eyewitness accounts and field reports.

Files

I would love to hear back from anyone who uses these! Feedback, comments, and areas for improvement would be greatly appreciated.

(Note: Only the most recent versions of each file are shown. The changelog is below, and see the comments thread for the thought process. I would be happy to share old versions by request, though bear in mind that there is usually a good reason I would take the time to update them.)

If you make use of these materials, please consider leaving a comment or contacting me with your thoughts. 

CHANGELOG:

v130522 – original project files

v130606 – revisions made after trying it on three blocks of junior-level high school physics:

  • Data: Earthquake waveform made more realistic. (Though this is still greatly simplified.)
  • Data: p/s-waves lumped together into body waves, then surface waves added.
  • Data: body wave arrival times distributed around assumption of  7.1 km/s
  • Data: surface wave arrival times distributed around assumption of 3.8 km/s (down from about 5 km/s)
  • Data: separation of non-related sentences (reduce confusion).
  • Work Packet: adjusted to ask for body waves and surface waves instead.
  • Work Packet: rephrasing to be more specific about what is being asked.
  • Rubric: tightened the difference between Partial and Acceptable (was very wide before)
  • Rubric: added point values
  • Rubric: more specific phrasings
  • Rubric: moved 5% of weight from poster to teamwork/participation
  • Added Matlab waveform generator .m script and .fig file. (You should be able to run this in Octave too if you change the % comment markers to #. The plot commands probably won’t work.)

Acknowledgements

Many of the resources available at Tools for Ambitious Science Teaching (particularly the Discourse Tools) were enormously helpful in the planning process for this project. Additionally, the GRASPS method of planning a rich learning task (part of the Understanding By Design framework) was used to lay out and organize the initial ideas, as part of the full UbD plan for the unit.

Also many thanks are due to my BTR co-resident Akil Srinivasan, my residency collaborating teacher Sotiris Pentidis (Boston Community Leadership Academy), and my clinical teacher educator Andrea Wells (Boston Teacher Residency).

 

Show 3 footnotes

  1. We are using CPO Science’s Physics: A First Course this year.
  2. I haven’t really sat down and scoured these for intended implementation. My claim of alignment is based on the summary descriptions in the Framework.
  3. As much as I love many aspects of the NGSS, I am disappointed that the Core Ideas dimension contains wave physics almost solely in a technology/application context. This is the only “pure” wave standard I found.


Lesson Plan: Conservation of Energy using a Music Video

Lesson 2.2: Exploring Conservation of Energy

Unit: Work and Energy, Component 2 – Conservation of Energy
Date: January 10th, 2013
Day/Block: Day 1 –  A/E/F
Time Available: A 58min / E 48min / F 65min

Objective:
You will be able to design and analyze a Rube Goldberg Machine using the Law of Conservation of Energy.

Criteria for Success:
Can I design my own machine that transfers mechanical energy between objects through work?

Can I use the Law of Conservation of Energy to explain how my design transfers energy?

Assessment:
Handout with machine design and analysis questions.

Agenda:

[10 min] DoNow:

The complicated chain of events in the music video is called a “Rube Goldberg Machine”. These machines use many transfers of energy between a whole lot of objects in order to do a very simple task.

Invent your own small (2 objects) Rube Goldberg machine. How would you use one object to make another object do something else? Where is there work and energy? How does one object transfer energy to another?

Example:

[10 min] Discussion: Music Video

Show OK Go’s music video for “This Too Shall Pass”: (4 min)

Note: Watching the video was assigned as homework the previous night, along with the following guided questions: Where do you see work? Where do you see energy being transferred from one form to another? Write down at least 1 example (note the video time), and make sure to explain what object is doing work on what other object, what kind of energy is being transferred, and how you know.

Talk to a partner next to you and share 1 example of work and energy being transferred from one object to another. I will ask several students to share an observation that their partner noticed, and explain to me what object is having work done on it and what kinds of energy are involved.

Possible questions to ask:
What did you see? Be specific, tell me what happened to the object that makes you think there was work done. What kinds of energy do you think that the object has?  How do you know that the object has that kind of energy?

Record student observations on the whiteboard.

[15 min] In-Depth Analysis: Tire

Show video clip of the tire section twice (7 second clip starting at 1:03). Ask students to write down exactly what they see happening to the tire. Have students share their observations, and assemble a record of the tire’s journey on the board to refer to later.  (Make sure that the bucket hitting the tire is included.)  Hand out the worksheet for scaffolded analysis of the tire scenario.

Refer to your handout. Take 30 seconds to answer the first question by yourself. Ask one student to share what they wrote with the class.
1. At the beginning of the scenario, does the tire already have mechanical energy? If so, what form(s) is it in, and how do you know?

Take two minutes to answer questions 2 and 3 with a partner.  Ask one or two pairs to share, depending on time.
2. During the scenario, is work done on the tire by any other object?  Is this work positive or negative, and how do you know?
3. What happens to the tire’s total mechanical energy when the work is done to it?

Take four minutes to answer questions 4 and 5 with a partner. Ask one or two pairs to share, depending on time.
4. Describe what happens to the tire’s GPE, KE, and total ME as it goes through the scenario.
5.  What happens to the tire’s mechanical energy at the end of the scenario?

[15 min] Creative Activity: Design and Analyze

Turn over your handout. Now you have a chance to design your own Rube Goldberg machine! Draw your machine in the space provided, and use the Tire Analysis as a guide to answer the analysis questions below. The questions are due tomorrow for stamps. If you don’t finish in class, please complete the analysis questions as homework.

6. Draw your own piece of this Rube Goldberg Machine that uses 1 object. You must include at least 1 transfer of energy from one object to another.

7. What is your main object in this scenario? :

8. Describe what happens to your object’s GPE, KE, and total ME as it goes through the scenario beginning to end..

9. Where is work done on your object or by your object? How does this work change your object’s total mechanical energy?

10. Explain how your machine obeys the Law of Conservation of Energy, MEi + W = MEf.



Creative Engineering

“We believe that technology plus creativity equals art and innovation.”

– Adam Sadowsky.

Neat talk by Sadowsky at Google ZeitGeist on some of the crazily creative engineering projects that they have put together recently. Who says science and engineering folks don’t have an artistic side?

And I actually have an indirect connection to the work these guys do… A few of my former colleagues at NASA Dryden competed as Team Aerospace on the show Unchained Reactions: Fire and Ice. I was actually originally on the team as well, but couldn’t make the filming dates due to the fact that a play I was acting in was opening that weekend!

Anyway, their innovative ideas got noticed by others, and they’ve been working with Brett Doar (the guy doing the demonstration at the end of this video) on some upcoming big-budget ads (which they can’t tell us about yet).




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