Mountains, Earthquakes, Volcanoes NGSS MS ESS2-2


In the Mountains, Earthquakes and Volcanoes mini unit, students analyze actual earthquake data and draw conclusions about how and why plates move. They use hot water, paper, cardboard and food dye to model convection currents and plate boundaries. An analysis of earthquake depths along a subduction zone allows students to discover how much we can learn about the Earth even though we can’t see underground!


Extension Activities ask students to create a travel brochure to a destination with exciting geologic activity!


Anchor Phenomenon Ideas: Share recent earthquake data (just click on the interactive map) or articles about recent volcanic eruptions or earthquakes with students and use their authentic questions to make connections throughout the unit.

Make it Relevant: Most students are intrigued by earthquakes and volcanoes. To increase engagement even more, show a short clip from a popular disaster movie (San Andreas, The Quake) and discuss how likely these events are to occur in the area you live.

Tips and Tricks:

The best student model we have seen for question three includes a hot "core" of water with a plastic or foil cap. Students use a pencil to poke a hole in the cap and watch as the convection current rises up and spreads the paper "plates" apart.

Here is a simple model of convection currents you can share with students in a mini lesson to inspire their own models.

This one minute animation of mantle convection and plate movement will help students visualize what happens below Earth's surface. As students model plate boundaries in question four, encourage them to add color and other features like trenches and mountains to their drawings.

By analyzing actual earthquake data in question five, students can visualize the Nazca plate subducting beneath the South American plate. Earthquakes near the shore are closer to the surface and earthquakes farther inland have significantly deeper epicenters.

Question six offers students a final chance to visualize subduction and identify the processes and features of convergent boundary between an oceanic and continental plate.

Key for question five

Student sample question six

Enrichment Ideas: Take student learning even farther by asking students to analyze the science behind a popular disaster movie that showcases earthquakes and/or volcanic eruptions. As kids to determine what (if anything) in the movie could possibly happen and back up their claims with evidence.