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  • Many New Zealanders have felt the shake of an earthquake, and most students are aware of big earthquakes that have become part of New Zealand's recent history.

    Research shows that students are interested in learning science when the topic has relevance to them. Using a realistic context as the basis for learning science has the potential to give significance and meaning to what might otherwise resemble a list of facts. A realistic context connects students to authentic scientific processes and purposes. It links science knowledge with societal outcomes and provides insights into scientific careers.

    Earthquakes are a reasonably common experience in New Zealand. Earthquakes – as a contextual learning experience – allows students to explore:

    • science and society – connecting students’ real-world experiences to the science, and how it affects them
    • science concepts – exploring the science of earthquakes
    • New Zealand research – working to build infrastructure resilience and learning about the forces at work.

    Interactive planning pathways

    Teachers can use Hub resources as starting points for context-based learning. The planning map below provides a gateway to collections of articles, multimedia, student activities and stories of New Zealand’s science and engineering sectors. By using a combination of these resources, teachers can combine and build on conceptual understandings, capabilities development and assessment opportunities into relevant learning experiences.

    To sort and annotate these resources for later reference, log in and use our Collections tool. There is an Add to collection button on each page. Visit the help section for further Collections tool instructions.

    New Zealand Curriculum information

    Learning about earthquakes falls under the Planet Earth and Beyond: Earth systems.

    • Level 5 Investigate the composition, structure and features of the geosphere hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.
    • Level 6 Investigate the external and internal processes that shape and change the surface features of New Zealand.

    It falls under Earth systems and interacting systems in the senior school:

    • Level 7 Develop an understanding of the causes of natural hazards and their interactions with human activity on Earth.
    • Level 8 Develop an in-depth understanding of the interrelationship between human activities and the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere over time.

    However, as earthquake drills are part of school experiences, as is news of large seismic events, earthquake science is often covered as a result of responsive teaching.

    Science concepts

    There are several key science concepts that underpin learning about earthquakes:

    • Plate tectonics – the Earth is made up of layers, and the outer layer is divided into oceanic and continental plates that slide over the layer below.
    • Forces and movement – forces caused by tectonic plate movements deform and change materials within the landscape. These same forces also deform and change materials within structures such as buildings and bridges.
    • Waves – during an earthquake, seismic waves travel through or over the Earth. These shockwaves of released energy shake the Earth.

    Nature of science

    The nature of science strand is interwoven throughout the Hubs resources. The following are a small selection of NOS-related links.

    Links to NOS within the science articles include:

    • the use of models for testing new materials and structures
    • the need to collect indirect evidence when formulating models of the Earth
    • the tentative nature of science – as evidenced in tectonic plates theory.

    Links to NOS Investigation in science within the student activities include:

    • use of models for plate boundaries and base isolation
    • use of a map to plot earthquakes to show the shape of the subduction zone.

    Science capabilities

    The science articles contain numerous diagrams and models that allow students to practise interpreting representations.

    Opportunities for assessment

    Assessment opportunities using Hub resources:

    • Discussion of diagrams and models to monitor student understanding of science concepts and correct use of scientific terms.
    • Most of the student activities include written worksheets for the students to complete and provide snapshots of learning.

    The Assessment Resource Banks website has a number of resources involving vocabulary, interpreting data and using diagrams. Topics covered include tectonic plates, waves, the modified Mercalli intensity scale and emergency planning.

    Professional development opportunities

    The Hub has two recorded PLD webinars.

    The PLD webinars were based on the legacy Science Learning Hub. However, all the resources are still available on the new-look Science Learning Hub site.

    Related content

    Another way to explore this topic is using a question bank within an inquiry approach.

    Explore this resource for teachers from Te Papa and EQC Building an earthquake-ready future. It is aimed at curriculum levels 2–5 covering science, social studies and literacy.

    The PLD webinar Exploring natural hazards outlines some of the science behind what is happening at plate boundaries.

    There are also many volcanoes in the Pacific, including the very large Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapa underwater one. Read about the devastating Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapa volcanic eruption in January 2022 and what we might expect next.

    Earthquakes is a collection supports the House of Science Earthquakes resource kit – but it is also useful for anyone exploring Rūaumoko, what's inside the Earth, plate tectonics, seismic waves and engineering designed to keep us safe.

      Published 9 November 2017 Referencing Hub articles
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