Plate Tectonics

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Audience: Grades 4 - 8

Program Summary

Plate Tectonics is the most exciting geologic discovery of the 20th Century! Geologists and oceanographers are continuing to make new discoveries every year. This science is unfolding before our eyes today.

Volcanoes! Earthquakes! Tsunamis! Enormous forces burst out of the earth and create havoc and destruction. Learn why these catastrophes happen and where they are likely to occur in the future. The Plate Tectonics SeaTrek will explore the ever-moving surface of our dynamic planet: Earth.

Although the surface of the earth appears to be rigid and stationary, scientists have found that it is constantly in motion. The surface is broken into large slabs or plates that are moved around by heat energy from the interior of the planet. The plates spread apart and come together, creating ocean basins, mountain ranges, volcanic islands--all the major geologic features that we see today. The movements of the plates are very slow--barely an inch or so per year. But over the billions of years of Earth's history, the surface has constantly been transformed.

Plate Tectonics presents the key elements of this scientific concept that has revolutionized our understanding of the dynamic planet upon which we live.
Program Outline
This program emphasizes student involvement. A brief introduction challenges students to think about what causes volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. After explaining the basic scientific theory, students are asked questions pertaining to important plate tectonics topics to think about as the presentation proceeds.

A PowerPoint presentation provides visual evidence of ongoing plate movements while being complemented by a series of hands-on activities to maintain interest. These activities include:

  • A timeline rope with tags marking important events from Earth's formation to the present day.
  • A global map puzzle.
  • A global plate puzzle.
  • An inflatable globe with plate boundary markings.
  • A model showing the breakup of the supercontinent, Pangea, 200 million years ago to the current continental locations.
  • A volcano visual aid.
  • Two models showing how these gigantic plates move. The plate motions cause earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis as shown in the pictures.
  • Finally, the questions asked at the beginning are reviewed with student participation


  • The Earth, an Introduction to Physical Geology. Tarbuck/Lutgens (2nd edition)
  • Roadside Geology of Vermont and New Hampshire. Bradford B. Van Diver
  • Written in Stone. Chet and Maureen Raymo
  • After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America. Pielou, E. C.
  • Geology of the Isles of Shoals. Katherine Fowler-Billings
  • The Geology of the Seacoast Region of New Hampshire. Robert F. Novotny
  • Plate Tectonics - The Way the Earth Works (for grades 6-8) Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California at Berkeley