Unit Overview

In Mosa Mack’s Earthquakes and Volcanoes unit, students are led through a progression of three inquiry lessons that focus on the interaction of tectonic plates, the causes of Earthquakes and Volcanoes, and the impact of these events.

Lesson Overview

Medium 1s 640Solve: A Rumbling Earth Mystery + Vocabulary Mind Map

Students contextualize Earthquakes and Volcanoes vocabulary in a mind map before helping Mosa Mack solve the mystery of how some bakers in Cake County could feel an earthquake and others could not. By the end of The Solve, students discover that earthquakes and volcanoes have important similarities and differences. (75 mins)

Medium 2m 640Make: Lab Stations: Tectonic Plates Interacting

Students interact with a series of stations to model different ways in which tectonic plates interact. (100 mins)

Medium 3e 640Engineer: Engineer a Solution to Protect People from the Effects of Earthquakes or Volcanoes.

Students engineer a solution to protect our communities from the effects of earthquake or volcanic events. (120 mins)

Next Generations Science Standards

Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth’s surface at varying time and spatial scales.
Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects.

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Earth’s Materials and Systems
  • Natural Hazards
  • The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Connections to Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science
  • Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World
  • Patterns
  • Scale, Proportion and Quantity

Inquiry Scale

  • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
  • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
  • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.

Common Misconceptions

  • Learners initially confuse the relationship between the terms “crust” and “tectonic plates.” Emphasize the crust consists of the tectonic plates.
  • Learners initially think of a “fault line” as only where the plates meet (the boundary), but emphasize to learners using the mindmap, that any cracks in the tectonic plate caused by its movements are considered “fau lt lines.” All plate boundaries are faults; but not all faults are plate boundaries.
  • Learners initially conceptualize tectonic plate movements as happening instantly, but they really happen over very long periods of time. Emphasize to students that plates move at about the rate of fingernail growth. These sudden tectonic events that we discuss in this unit are a rapid release of pressure and tension that has built up over a very long period of time.


    • Crust
    • Magma
    • Lava
    • Earthquake
    • Fault Line
    • Tectonic Plate
    • Volcano

Content Expert

  • Eric Pyle, PhD
    Professor, Department of Geology & Environmental Science James Madison University


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Vocabulary Cards
  • Vocabulary Mind Map
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Design Student Handout

New: RocketLit Leveled Reading

* To give our users the most comprehensive science resource, Mosa Mack is piloting a partnership with RocketLit, a provider of leveled science articles.

  • Buildings vs Earthquakes

    In this article, students read about a fight between a building and earthquake wave to demonstrate few ways that we design buildings to withstand earthquake waves. The article defines the terms 'absorb' and 'transmit' as well as talks about the benefits to base isolation and flexibility in building design.

  • Do All Volcanoes Go BOOM?

    This article outlines 3 of the basic volcanic shapes: Cinder cones, shield and composite. Students read a brief description of each type of volcano and read about what an eruption can mean for both large and small volcanoes.

  • How To Shake Like An Earthquake

    Earthquakes can be super scary, but understanding how everything shakes out may help you be safer when one strikes. This article discusses the 2 main types of waves in an earthquake and the tool that we use to measure the strength and epicenter of the shaking.

  • From Liquid Rock To Solid Earth

    This article serves to introduce volcanoes and explain that the most likely place to see a volcano on Earth is around the Ring of Fire. In addition, volcanic fissures can be found in the middle of the oceans, slowly spewing up magma and creating new land. KER-POW!