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Global GIS Lesson:

Exploring North American Earthquakes

By Joseph J. Kerski

Linkages to Science Standards

Teaching Standards

This lesson supports national teaching science standards because the lesson was developed as an inquiry-based approach to teaching. Specifically, it supports Teaching Standard A because it is interdisciplinary and nurtures a community of science learners. Teaching Standard B focuses on modeling the skills of scientific inquiry, which students do while analyzing earthquakes within a GIS environment. Teaching Standard C is supported because the questions use multiple methods of assessment, and many sections of the lesson do not have one “right answer;” rather, the questions encourage students to reflect upon their learning. It supports Teaching Standard D because through the Global GIS project, it makes the available science tools, materials, media, and technological resources accessible to students. Teaching Standard E is supported because students are encouraged to collaborate with each other, and because the lesson models emphasize the skills, attitudes, and values of scientific inquiry. In short, with GIS, constructivist teaching is supported because students are not memorizing facts, and the teachers’ role changes to one of guiding the students in their inquiry.

Professional Development Standards

Teaching with GIS support the vision of professional development standards for the teaching of science. Specifically, in the learning of science content through inquiry standard, GIS was created as an inquiry-based, problem-solving tool. It was not something “made up” for the classroom. Rather, teachers using GIS are themselves learning science content in the same way as a scientist in government, business, or a nonprofit organization does everyday on the job. Furthermore, the development of the understanding and ability for lifelong learning is supported because GIS is not a “plug and play” CD. It is a system, and indeed, geographic information science is a science in its own right. Therefore, teaching with GIS cannot be dismissed as easy. It is hard work, but in so doing, teachers learn continual reflection, new strategies, best practice, and learning alongside the students. Despite the hard work, most teachers using GIS in the classroom indicate that it is a worthwhile endeavor.

Science Content Standards

Investigating the Earth with a GIS supports science content standards. For example, the “unifying concepts and processes” standard is integrated into the lesson in that students are provided with a system, a way of organizing their data within a GIS. They are also provided evidence for earthquake and volcano hazards as real scientific data. Students examine evidence and explain the distribution of phenomena across Earth's surface. They measure phenomena and they analyze changes over time and space.

Investigating Earth with a GIS also addresses the science as inquiry standard, because students learn scientific concepts (plate tectonics) by developing the skills scientists use on the job. GIS is a real-world tool used by thousands of scientists daily. The process of inquiry within a GIS is more important than the "final answer" that the students provide. GIS-driven inquiry gives students an appreciation of scientific investigation, because it is the same tool that scientists use. Using GIS, students ask questions, acquire or generate necessary data, analyze the data, draw conclusions, and ask new questions. They conduct their own investigations in a hands-on way. In so doing, they are developing skills necessary to become independent inquirers about the natural world.

Students using GIS through this lesson begin to see that their analysis hinges largely on the quality of the data provided. They learn to be critical of the data. Too often, when data are viewed on the computer, they are considered to be perfect; without error. However, computer-based data are no more accurate or precise than the paper maps and original sources they were derived from. This is especially important with map data because maps are representations of the Earth. They all contain inaccuracies because they are based on specific map projections, which distort the three-dimensional earth to depict it on a two-dimensional paper map or computer screen. Being critical of data and recognizing the limitations of data and analysis are essential science learning skills.

Using this CD and lesson, emphasis is on investigation and analysis, rather than on demonstration. The GIS skills the students are learning are in context with the lesson on seismicity, and they are using multiple skills—process, computer, analysis. Instead of simply providing answers to questions, students are communicating science explanations about science content through their maps, tables, and charts from GIS. Their conclusions must be backed by real-world data.

The lesson supports the physical science standards because students learn about tectonic forces, motions, and patterns, and the structure of the earth system. The science and technology standards are addressed because students learn science through GIS technology. Natural hazards are a component in the science in personal and social perspectives standards, and with this lesson, students assess risks and benefits of living with earthquakes, and the relationship of earthquakes to cities and critical infrastructure such as roads, utility lines, and railroads.


Science Standards

GIS Skills Involved

Investigation Overview


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

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