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Plate Tectonics, Earthquakes, and Volcanoes
Big Idea
"Plate tectonics is the unifying theory that explains the past and current movements of the rocks at Earth's surface and provides a framework for understanding its geological history. Plate movements are responsible for most continental and ocean floor features and for the distribution of most rocks and minerals within Earth's crust. Maps of ancient land and water patterns, based on investigations of rocks and fossils, make clear how Earth's plates have moved great distances, collided, and spread apart." (A Framework for K-12 Science Education)
Essential Questions
  • What are the characteristics of Earth's crust, mantle, and core?
  • What causes convection currents in Earth's mantle?
  • How does sea-floor spreading help support continental drift?
  • What evidence supports the movement of the plates?
  • What are the three types of plate boundaries?
  • What causes earthquakes? How are they measured?

Keep a record of observations, notes, sketches, questions, and ideas using tools such as written and/or computer logs.
Analyze the evidence that lithospheric plate movements occur.
Relate plate boundary movements to their resulting landforms, including
  • mountains
  • faults
  • rift valleys
  • trenches
  • volcanoes
Describe the properties and the composition of the following major layers of the Earth
  • crust
  • mantle
  • core
Explain lithospheric plate movement as a result of convection.
Describe how earthquakes are measured.
Science & Engineering Practices
  • Developing and Using Models:  Create a model of Earth's interior with descriptions of each layer.
Content/Core Ideas
The solid earth is layered with a lithosphere; hot, convecting mantle; and dense, metallic core (NSES) Lithospheric plates on the scales of continents and oceans constantly move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle. Major geological events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building, result from these plate motions. (NSES) The locations of mountain ranges, deep ocean trenches, ocean floor structures, earthquakes, and volcanoes occur in patterns.
Crosscutting Concepts
  • Patterns
  • Cause and Effect
  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  • Systems and System Models
  • Energy and Matter
  • Stability and Change
Learning Practices
CC:7.W.2  Journal-- Explain how the process of plate tectonics as it is involved in the formation of Earth's structure.
Academic Vocabulary
  • crust
  • mantle
  • core
  • lithosphere
  • convection
  • mountains
  • faults
  • rift valleys
  • trenches
  • volcanoes
  • seismic waves
  • pressure
  • outer core
  • inner core
  • density
  • radiation
  • conduction
  • currents
  • continental drift
  • Pangaea
  • fossil
  • mid-ocean ridge
  • sonar
  • sea-floor spreading
  • plate
  • scientific theory
  • plate tectonics
  • fault
  • divergent boundary
  • convergent boundary
  • transform boundary