Earthquakes-Engineering-Grade 4

Regional Educational Service Agency
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Tool/Software , Assessment Item , Activity , Demonstration
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.



This three part lesson presents students with the real-world problem that engineers deal with when constructing earthquake safe buildings on unstable soils. The lesson is designed in the 5E inquiry format. Emphasis is placed on giving students the opportunity to create and test design solutions which protect infrastructures. * Access to resource to be selected from listed lessons on webpage.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
  • 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 is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This resource gives students the opportunity to generate and compare possible solutions for building structures on unstable soil in earthquake prone areas. Students could review the properties of soil found in affected areas. Students could discuss how soil properties might affect building stability, then test sand, topsoil, and clay to pre-determine effects of soil liquification on their design solutions. Possible essential questions to consider: Why do engineers build on unstable soil? What strategies should scientists consider as they plan for maximum building safety? These questions could be discussed with students acting as scientists, brainstorming possible design solutions, then journaling their ideas to support solution strategies.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students could create a problem/solution chart reviewing types of damage that occur from earthquakes. Individuals/groups could add explanations for damage, then brainstorm solutions before testing them. Their design solutions should focus on ways to build on these soils to ensure safe construction. Once testing is completed, students learn how unstable soils behave during an earthquake. They can compare design solutions, with the teacher facilitating a science talk focusing on the question: What features of our designs work best to build on unstable soils?

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
In this lesson, students watch a video of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Students could view videos/photos of affected areas before and after this earth-quake has occurred. Focus on human population survival, building damage, and costs to replace infrastructures could be discussed. Students could brainstorm many long-lasting effects of damage, then journal possible methods of prevention. Students could rewatch video once they have developed and tested solutions, discussing how their solutions might have affected outcome in minimizing damage.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students could diagram or illustrate possible solutions, labeling materials used in design solution. Results of test could be incorporated into science journals on an individual basis, or rated on a class checklist. Students would draw conclusions about solutions which created the greatest building stability from others design solutions.

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
Soil stability is one factor which engineers address when designing earthquake proof buildings. Infrastructures may be damaged when soil liquefaction occurs. Students investigate the cause and effect relationship between unstable soils and earthquakes; focusing on what could happen if these effects are not taken into account during building design for unstable soils. Students could also prepare soil liquefaction tests on types of soil found in their own environments, comparing results to soils in San Francisco, journaling similarities and differences. Topics to consider might include whether cause/effect would be as pronounced for earthquake damage in their own areas.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This resource explores grade appropriate natural hazard phenomena through the engineering practice of designing and evaluating solutions by providing students an opportunity to design solutions which would lessen the impact of earthquakes on infrastructures. Emphasis is placed on the importance of engineering design while real-life scenarios are presented to students. While crosscutting concepts are used they are not explicitly addressed in this resource.

  • Instructional Supports: Students are asked to use the Mercali scales to determine the intensity of the earthquake which they have viewed on video, then create a contour map of the affected area. Soil liquifecation studies (45 pages) are provided as a resource, as well as the app for the iSeismometer. These supports for students appear to be at a much higher ability level than that of a Grade 4 student. The iSeismometer requires the use of a phone or IPad. The resources provided could possibly be used as a teacher resource. Students could benefit from a much more simplified approach to seismometer building and testing, as well as design of a contour map. The resource has a 3 lesson time span. If students will make use of instructional materials, several more lessons might be required to assure that students have a concrete understanding of the tools that will assist them in designing solutions. Modifications for ELL students are not provided.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Assessment includes having students write a pro/con essay for building structures on unsafe soil, using evidence from their recorded data. Assessment provides an opportunity for students to form connections to their construction of explanations. No rubric is provided for the essay. A unit test is mentioned as a form of assessment; none is provided.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Videos provided a basic structure for students to examine earthquake effects. As mentioned above, the iSeismometer might be difficult for students to access, understand, and analyze for use in their testing situations.