Tsunami Survival

College of Engineering, University of Colordo at Boulder, Integrated Teaching and Learning Program; Teach Engineering
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Model , Simulation , Activity , Demonstration , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Map
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



Students use a table-top tsunami generator to test how different materials used in house models (created by students and the teacher) are impacted by a simulated tsunami. Students discuss the work of engineers who design buildings and use high-tech detection systems to lessen the devastation of tsunami damage. Students are also able to view a video which demonstrates how a young girl of their own age was able to warn people of an impending tsunami based  on what she had learned in school about tsunami warning signs.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 4
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

3-5-ETS1-2 Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
To fully realize the PE, teacher must explicitly layout the criteria (build a house that will withstand a simulated tsunami) and constraints (using only materials provided- tissue paper, cardstock, notebook paper, toothpicks) of this activity. The topic of engineering design and use of appropriate materials for shelter could also be included in the discussion. Students might also benefit from observation of before/after photos or videos of tsunami impact, as well as the video presented in the lesson. Students will identify with girl shown in video who had learned about tsunamis in school and was able to warn and save people in the area. That video would generate a discussion of possible solutions (engineering design in nature), with emphasis on how well they could be implemented.

4-ESS3-2 Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans.

Clarification Statement: Examples of solutions could include designing an earthquake resistant building and improving monitoring of volcanic activity.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students would benefit from observation of tsunami video mentioned in the lesson, as well as other tsunami simulations. Focus should include how tsunamis bring kinetic energy on shore where many humans reside and how tsunamis are related to earth processes. Background information about tsunami causes and impact would assist students as a pre-lesson.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students could investigate properties of materials as they chose them for the simulation. Discussion questions could include how types of materials might withstand impact. (Example- In what real-life situations have you observed these materials being used? How well did they perform? What other types of materials might be used?) Students could list materials on a chart (either whole-class, group, or individual), rating them based on their capacity to withstand certain kinds of damage. Students could also discuss/journal how practical in cost/availability/environment their choices might be. Evidence for their choices could be detailed in science notebooks. Teacher could peruse student journal entries as a form of informal assessment.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Review of natural processes and their impacts could be compared/contrasted with types of damage inflicted by tsunamis. Focus of discussion could include concept that natural processes cannot be prevented, but their impacts can be lessened. Videos of natural processes, which illustrate the before/after changes in earth systems would provide supplemental information for students.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Emphasis in the lesson focuses on the impact of tsunamis; development of human shelters to withstand that impact, and discussion of preventive measures to warn of potential tsunamis. Cause and effect is implied.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson engages students in engineering scenarios that connect science with problems experienced in the real world. It allows students to express, represent, and test their own ideas.

  • Instructional Supports: Teacher is presented with detailed plans for implementing the structure of the lesson. Instructional supports could include more suggestions for class discussion, and guided focus questions that encourage students to evaluate their material choices.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Informal assessment is included in the form of class discussion. Teacher could informally assess student prior knowledge of tsunamis and their impact through early class discussions. Focus of discussion could include the reality that tsunamis cannot be prevented and change the landscape, shelter, and lives of people affected. Rubric for quality of detailed evidence presented by student could be developed by teacher. Written evidence could be assessed through journal writing. Differentiation of instruction for struggling students is not addressed. Student pair group work, use of diagrams and illustrations, and vocabulary development prior to simulation lesson would be helpful.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students observe a tsunami simulation and a clip of young girl who warned others of an impending tsunami. Interactivity is not applicable.