Earthquake Provocation

A few summers ago I took a PD with Modesto Tamez from the exploratorium. It was amazing to learn from him – his presentation style was very unique and engaging and it was impossible not to smile when he presented.  One of the many things I learned from him was “Provocations”.  These were WOW activities in science to get the students engaged and thinking about a concept.  Over the break I was trying to think of a provocation to engage students in the science of earthquakes.  We had already build structures, we looked a real world data, but I need something else, another hook so they would be interested in seismic waves, stress in the crust, etc. After looking online for activities, I found it. I found this blog post online about a teacher who had set up a simulated earthquake for her students.  I knew this was what I was looking for.  Many of my students have been here during small earthquakes, but many of them don’t remember them or slept through them.  So I felt like they needed  a “real” earthquake experience.


I met my students in the hallway and told them that over the break something had happened in my classroom and it was up to them to figure out what happened and write evidence based on their observations to support their claim.  Before class I had pushed desks around, knocked chairs and supplies on the floor, and set out pictures of earthquake damage – focusing on schools, and had live footage projected at the front of the class.  The students came in and walked around taking it all in and recording their observations.  As I walked around, it was clear that the kids had figured out that what happened and had made good observations.  As they were wrapping up, I turned on earthquake sound effects and told them there was an aftershock and made them all duck and cover under their desks.  It was a fun way start to our lesson on earthquakes.


ASTC and AZA Passport Programs

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Free Admission to zoos and science museums nationwide!  You can’t beat that.  Two summers ago we were visiting family in Massachusetts and we got to spend a couple of days enjoying Boston.  While we were there I wanted to check out the Museum of Science in Boston – I am a bit of a science dork.  The prices were $25 for adults and $20 for kids – thats $90 for our family to visit!  I am a thrifty (cheap) person so this seemed like an outrageous amount of money to pay for one day at a museum.  As I looked into coupons and discounts I noticed they were part of the ASTC passport program.  This program includes about 300 science museums around that country that have free admission for members of other ASTC museums.  I looked to see which museums in my area were part of this program and we chose to become members of one of our favorite spots –  Happy Hollow park and zoo in San Jose. The cost of the membership was $140 for the family and was a member of the ASTC passport program and AZA reciprocal program (zoos and aquariums) so this gave us free admission to over 400 zoos, aquariums, and science centers throughout the country and 50% discount to ones within our area.

Then it became my mission to use this pass as much as possible during the year we had it which took us to some amazing and unforgettable places that we would probably not have visited.


On a trip to Oregon we saw the Spruce Goose at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum which has an amazing indoor waterpark next door (not included in the free program, but totally fun!)


We went to the Winston Wildlife Safari also in Oregon – this one was %50 off admission.  It was so cool!  There is a huge open space with hundreds of different animals and you drive through in your car.  Some animals came right up to the car.  The kids loved it.

We also explored many of our local science museums:  Lawrence Hall of Science, Chabot Space and Science Center,  Children’s Creativity Museum, Lindsay Wildlife Museum, and of course many visits to Happy Hollow – our actual membership.


We looked into renewing our membership, but Happy Hollow decided to leave the passport program so we decided it was not worth it anymore.  Luckily I just found another local museum that is part of ASTC and AZA and it was only $99 for the membership – Curiodyssey.  Such a deal!   I actually purchased the membership online while we were in Santa Barbara so we could go to the Santa Barbara Zoo and the Sea Center on Stern’s Wharf.  Both were free with our membership.   I’m so excited to continue visiting zoos and science centers this year!


Being Okay with Uncertainty



I just got back from 4 amazing days with my family at the beach in Santa Barbara.  My kids are still young (7 and 5) and they are just so curious and learn and explain the things around them based their experiences and observations. I asked my daughter, “what do you think causes the waves” and she thought for a bit and answered, “the animals moving in the ocean.”

As an adult, I feel like I am often compelled to find the “right” answer.  And often to find that answer I hop onto my phone or computer and look it up.  And usually within a couple of days I forget about the question, and more importantly I have forgotten the answer to the question. My students are like this too. They are eager to have the “right” answer and get frustrated and even anxious if they feel I am not giving them the answer.  While at the beach I was reminded that most of the time, the answer isn’t important, it is the question and the process to try to answer the question that holds the real learning.

For example, while we were at the beach I noticed small holes in the sand. As I looked at the holes I realized I thought the holes were made by organisms living under the sand.  This was an explanation I had made as a child and never had questioned it.  I asked Kyle, my husband, “What makes the holes in the sand?”  I was curious to see if his answer would be the same as mine, and I was surprised when it wasn’t.  His explanation was the holes were air bubbles from air in the sand rising to the surface when the area is under water.  Now faced with a different explanation, we both started looking for evidence to support either explanation. We noticed many things: the holes were only in the part of the beach that was covered only during high tide; the sand in the area was not as dense and compacted as the sand closer to the water; the sandpipers and plovers feeding in the area were feeding closer to the waterline in the dense, wet, holeless sand.  All of our evidence seemed to better support Kyle’s explanation.  But it didn’t really matter what caused the holes, the question made us more alert to observations around us and got us thinking about the question.sciatbeach.png

This real life learning is so much more engaging and memorable that reading something online or in a book.  It made me think of so many questions at the beach that would be great for my students investigate that tie in with the science concepts I cover in the classroom:

  • Is the tide moving in or out?
  • Can you build a taller sandcastle with wet or dry sand?
  • Why does kelp have air bubbles?
  • What is sand made of?
  • What is the best way to prevent beach erosion?

So inspiring!  Can’t wait to get started on making these ideas into lessons.

Spaghetti Engineering


Living in California, earthquakes are a big deal.  Most of the students in my classes have experienced an earthquake – although many of them slept through them.  Since it is a topic that hits close to home for them (did you catch my pun?!?), the engagement factor is high.  We lead up to this project by first mapping where earthquakes happen in the world (look for this in an upcoming post).  Students notice and explain that earthquakes happen near plate boundaries.  We then made a color coded risk map of the US showing which states are most at risk using data collected over a 15 year period.

During the time we were working on the earthquake unit, geologists in Southern California issued a heightened earthquake risk warning.  Perfect timing for us.  We read this article from Popular Science and learned that earthquakes cannot be reliably predicted, and the best way to stay safe is to be prepared – leading us to our earthquake engineering project.

The lesson follows the steps of the engineering design process:


The students worked in groups of 3 or 4 – I chose the groups this time, but I have let them choose their groups in the past.  There doesn’t seem to be a perfect way to do this and someone always seems to end up with hurt feelings because their group isn’t listening to them.  It is a hard thing, working in a group, even for adults, let alone 12 year olds.  My own kids and I like to watch MasterChef and the dreaded group challenges and the conflict that comes from that.  But we work through it and I will sometimes have to step in and explain working in a professional group means that all ideas are heard.

Each student takes on a role:  Architect, Accountant, Materials Manager, and Project Manager. They are given a budget of $3000 – $5000 – I have changed it up each year.  I open my supply store and the students plan out their idea and write me checks to “purchase” supplies.  Having a budget keeps them from wasting materials, and they are given 3 checks to use so they can come to the store 3 times during the project so they have to plan ahead.  Then they start building, testing, and improving their design.  I have a shake table set up in the back of the room so groups can test as they build.  This is a really important step since many of their initial designs end up falling apart and they the need to rethink and redesign.

On the final day, we test the structures one at a time as a class. This is a fun culmination to our project and the students and I have a lot of fun with it.spaghetti-structures-cover

Click on the above image taken to the Teachers Pay Teachers page with a complete copy of the lesson, student handouts, and teacher pages.

First blog post

I went to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo as a biology major.  I loved it, so much so, that I stretched it out to five years.  There motto is,”Learn by doing” and I remember being in lab classes with my best friend and joking that we were “learning by doing” as we fumbled though many mishaps including breaking a significant amount of glassware, lighting things on fire, and getting urinated on by a bullfrog.   I didn’t realize until later how much this motto would impact my life.

As a middle school science teacher, my job is to excite my students about the world around them.  To make them curious, to ask questions, and find the answers. I found that the way to do that was by “doing science”.  Lab activities, hands on investigations, playing with materials led to more meaningful and memorable learning opportunities.  The students go crazy for the STEM activities so this blog is to share the fun we have in the classroom.

As a mother of two, I hope to instill that same sense of curiosity and sense of adventure with my own family.    View More: