Unit Overview

Learners will help Mosa figure out how Lystrosaurus fossils were found on three different continents. Following the mystery, students construct a model of a supercontinent (Pangea) and engineer a device to track the motion of plates.

Lesson Overview

Medium solveSolve: Fossil Mystery + Vocabulary Mind Map
Medium makeMake: Use Evidence from Plant and Animal Fossils to Prove Tectonic Plate Motion
Medium engineerEngineer: Engineer a Device to Detect Plate Movement

Learners will contextualize vocabulary relating to plate tectonics before helping Mosa Mack figure out how Lystrosaurus fossils were found on three different continents. (80 minutes)

Learners will select a plant or animal fossil to study and construct a model of how the plates of a supercontinent could break apart, explaining the theory of plate tectonics as indicated by the presence of certain fossils. (100 minutes)

Learners will design a never-before-seen device that tracks the motion of plate tectonics (100 minutes)

Next Generations Science Standards

Identify evidence from patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers to support an explanation for changes in a landscape over time. [Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence from patterns could include rock layers with marine shell fossils above rock layers with plant fossils and no shells, indicating a change from land to water over time; and, a canyon with different rock layers in the walls and a river in the bottom, indicating that over time a river cut through the rock.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include specific knowledge of the mechanism of rock formation or memorization of specific rock formations and layers. Assessment is limited to relative time.]
Analyze and interpret data on the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to provide evidence of the past plate motions. [Clarification Statement: Examples of data include similarities of rock and fossil types on different continents, the shapes of the continents (including continental shelves), and the locations of ocean structures (such as ridges, fracture zones, and trenches).] [Assessment Boundary: Paleomagnetic anomalies in oceanic and continental crust are not assessed.]

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Connections to Nature of Science
  • Scientific Knowledge is Open to Revision in Light of New Evidence

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Plate Tectonics and LargeScale System Interactions
  • The History of Planet Earth

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Patterns

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

  • Some students have the misconception that after Pangaea broke apart, this change became permanent. Remind students that because of the magma underneath the plates, tectonic plates are always moving.
  • Students often have the misconception that plates are evenly distributed, and thus tectonic events are evenly distributed. On the mind map, encourage students to notice that there are more plates in the Pacific than the Atlantic. That’s why earthquakes and volcanoes are more common in the Pacific.
  • Students often think of mountains and volcanoes as completely separate entities. Ask students to notice differences and similarities between mountains and volcanoes. Emphasize to students that earthquakes and volcanoes are both caused by plate motion.


    • Continents
    • Lystrosaurus
    • Crust
    • Magma
    • Core
    • Lava
    • Tectonic Plate

Content Expert Title

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


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

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.

  • Earth Soup

    Medium 230 864
    In this article, student read about the different layers of the Earth and what makes each layer so different from the others. The article is written analogizing earth's layers with a bowl of hot soup!

  • How Fast Do The Continents Move?

    Medium 72 148
    Earth is OLD and things happen very slowly. Giant lithospheric plates move around the same speed as our fingernails grow and it's difficult to use years when speaking of the passage of time. Instead, we divide earth's history up into major events using Geological Time.

  • The Ground is Moving Right Now?

    Medium 119 197
    The ground under our feet is always moving. This article focuses on the movement that happens under the oceans. New land is forming out of ridges and old land is being swallowed back down into the earth as it subducts.

  • Uh... What did you say...? The continents MOVE?

    Medium 71 147
    Alfred Wegener was one of the first people to suggest that the continents moved, based on the fit of the continents. At that time he suggested that they slowly floated on the water, but was heavily criticized for his ideas. It wasn't until after his death that we discovered he was on the right track!

  • Moving Plates, Moving Furniture

    Medium 242 1051
    In this article, students read about how plates move in transform boundaries and strike slip faults. They also read about the San Andreas Fault and the destructive San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

  • From Liquid Rock To Solid Earth

    Medium 82 150
    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!

  • Under Your Feet

    Medium 118 196
    From the rumbling of a volcano to the shake of an earthquake, it's important for students to understand what different parts we have beneath the surface of earth. This article talks about the composition of each part and where they can be found beneath (or on) the surface of the earth.

  • Land Factory

    Medium 243 1052
    In this article, students are introduced to divergent plate boundaries and the concept of sea-floor spreading. Just as a conveyor belt at the grocery store moves, new land is created under the oceans at the mid-ocean ridges.