Plate Tectonics: Plates

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Science Objects are two hour on-line interactive inquiry-based content modules that help teachers better understand the science content they teach. This Science Object is the second of five Science Objects in the Plate Tectonics SciPack. It provides a conceptual understanding of what plates are and how they move, contributing to a constantly changing surface. The Earth’s continents and ocean basins are made up of plates consisting of the crust and the upper part of the mantle. One plate can consist of both continental and oceanic crust. These plates move very slowly (an inch or so per year) on the hot, deformable layer of the mantle beneath them. The outward transfer of Earth’s internal heat drives convection circulation in the mantle. This convection, together with gravitational pull on the plates themselves, causes the plates to move.

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Reviews (17)
  • on Sun Sep 27, 2015 9:53 PM

It appears to be that we’re having more and more earthquakes as the year’s progress as well as volcanoes. When you look at the NSTA Science Simulation you can clearly see that the relationship between earthquakes and volcano distribution is best described as often overlapping. Due to this random distribution across the globe it is very difficult to make a decision about where not to or even call home as asked in the Science Object. I really enjoyed the Science Object! It was very educational in terms of giving me a clear understating as to how the plates operate. It was interesting to find out that the plates in the lithosphere moves a couple of centimeters a year. I remember from grade school talking about the earth’s crust, the mantle, etc., but it was like new information for me learning about the plate tectonics. It was very surprising to learn that we are literally sitting on objects that are moving each day just extremely slow. I plan to go beyond the Science Object and learn more about plate tectonics to gain an even better understanding.

Kizzy Amos
Kizzy Amos

  • on Thu Sep 24, 2015 4:40 PM

Great module! I escpecially enjoyed the pictures and articles on earthquakes. My brother is in Japan and was able to send me video of the earthquake. It was interesting to see the effects of the earth's movement and shifts in the plates. The part of the land that is moving is the Earth's surface called the lithosphere. The lithosphere is made up of the Earth's crust and a part of the upper mantle. The lithosphere moves in big chunks of land called tectonic plates. Some of these plates are huge and cover entire continents

Linda Howard
Linda Howard

  • on Thu Sep 17, 2015 6:11 PM

This lesson explored earth's crust and make-up. Several great concepts were explored including lithosphere/tectonic plates. This lesson reviewed the rate of plate motion including the continental drift and convection and gravitational concepts. I really enjoyed the graphics, interactive and hands on activities. There are tons of great information in this lesson.

Sheri Smith
Sheri Smith

  • on Thu Sep 17, 2015 4:47 PM

This was a very interesting section to read. It amazes me as an Elementary teacher the amount of Science topics that I am not aware of or either been exposed to. According to the theory of plate tectonics, Earth's crust is composed of a number of individual plates that change shape and position over time. Geophysical evidence indicates that the face of Earth's surface has changed significantly since its initial formation and that the plates on which the continents are located are in constant motion. The movement of the plates is responsible for the formation of ocean basins, mountain ranges, islands, volcanoes, and earthquakes. Important concepts in the theory of plate tectonics include the following: • The ocean floors are continually moving — spreading from the center, sinking at the edges, and being regenerated. • Convection currents beneath the plates are responsible for plate movement. • The source of energy responsible for generating the heat and convection currents that move the plates is most likely radioactivity deep in Earth's mantle The theory of plate tectonics is supported by 1) paleomagnetism, the direction and intensity of Earth's magnetism in the geologic past; 2) the global distribution of earthquakes and their close association with plate boundaries; 3) the ages of sediments from the floors of the deep-ocean basins; and 4) the existence of island groups that formed over hot spots and provide a frame of reference for tracing the direction of plate motion. Several models for the driving mechanism of plates have been proposed. One model involves large convection cells within the mantle carrying the overlying plates. Another model called slab-pull proposes that dense oceanic material descends and pulls the lithosphere along. A third model suggests that hot, buoyant plumes of rock are the upward flowing arms, while the downward limbs of these convective cells are the cold, dense subducting plates. No single driving mechanism can account for all of the major facets of plate motion.

Aisha Burchfield  (Covington, GA)
Aisha Burchfield (Covington, GA)

  • on Thu Sep 17, 2015 3:05 PM

This pack gives a very detailed account regarding the tectonic plates on Earth and how these plates function. Basically there are 8 major plates on the surface of the Earth. There are also many minor plates. They constantly move centimeters each year. These plates make up the top layer of the Earth called the lithosphere. Directly under that layer is the asthenosphere. It's a flowing area of molten rock. There is constant heat and radiation given off from the center of the Earth. That energy is what constantly heats the rocks and melts them. The tectonic plates are floating on top of the molten rock and moving around the planet.

Tanya Barrett
Tanya Barrett

  • on Wed Sep 16, 2015 5:56 PM

This SciPack was very informative about the Earth’s lithosphere and how the plate in the lithosphere moves very slowly. The plate movements can cause several changes as they move over and under one another. Ridges, volcanoes, and trenches can form when these plates collide. Earthquakes can also form when there is movement under the continent. This information would be valuable to teachers, especially 3rd grade teachers when teaching students about rocks and minerals while relating this to learning about fossils.

Felicia Anthony
Felicia Anthony

  • on Sat Mar 21, 2015 8:18 AM

Great introduction to plate locations over ocean or continent. It gives the BIG picture of where they are and how and when they move.

Robin Willig  (Rye Brook, NY)
Robin Willig (Rye Brook, NY)

  • on Wed Sep 03, 2014 5:41 AM

I really enjoy Science Objects. In 1-3 hours, the Plate Tectonics: Plates Science Object will help me re-learn, refresh, or learn for the first time some critical science concepts I will have to know to obtain my Science Educator credentials. I appreciate that I can complete them at my own pace, and that, if used as park of a SciPack, I have access to a content expert to go to for help. The NSTA Learning Center Science Objects are very beneficial! Not only will they enrich my teaching, the knowledge will enrich my life.

Naomi Beverly  (Marietta, GA)
Naomi Beverly (Marietta, GA)

  • on Mon Nov 25, 2013 2:43 PM

Nice introduction to the unit!

Tory Addison
Tory Addison

  • on Tue Jun 12, 2012 3:14 PM

Very logical and very good Formative assessment questions to reinforce a good understanding of the topic.

Michael M  (Vergennes, VT)
Michael M (Vergennes, VT)

  • on Thu Oct 15, 2015 5:04 PM

Tectonics: Plates Science Object was a great resource. It gave the background information on the theory of Plate tectonics. I is the outer rigid layer of the earth (the lithosphere) is divided into a couple of dozen "plates" that move around across the earth's surface relative to each other, like slabs of ice on a lake. The interactive map shows a great representation.

JeRita Humphrey
JeRita Humphrey

  • on Mon Sep 14, 2015 9:54 PM

After viewing this resource I have gathered that plates, the crust, and Earth layers all tries in together to work together. This resources has border my understanding a little bite more. Vocabulary was expanded. With convergent plates I learned they move together, divergent plates move away from each other, and tranform plates slide pass each other. As mentioned in another reading the vocabulary helps develop a deeper understanding.

Adriane Woods
Adriane Woods

  • on Sun Sep 13, 2015 7:26 PM

I really enjoyed this lesson on plates. I found it both informative and entertaining. There was even a joke...labeled as a "Hands-on activity," having the student watch nails grow to simulate the speed that plates move. This was a great introduction to tectonic plates. I never earthquakes and volcanos are connected to plate movement, but I never realized that they both occur on the same narrow band that coincides with plate boundaries. The images were great at demonstrating this.

Bianca Jones
Bianca Jones

  • on Thu Sep 10, 2015 4:06 PM

I love physical science! This is an interesting topics; however, most teachers are unable to explain what is happening in the world. A lot of times in current events we have earthquakes even small volcanic eruptions. This scipack can help explain to students what is happening beneath the earth.

Gerard Latimore
Gerard Latimore

  • on Thu Sep 10, 2015 4:06 PM

I love physical science! This is an interesting topics; however, most teachers are unable to explain what is happening in the world. A lot of times in current events we have earthquakes even small volcanic eruptions. This scipack can help explain to students what is happening beneath the earth.

Gerard Latimore
Gerard Latimore

  • on Wed Sep 30, 2015 8:53 PM

One of the best teaching features for this Science Object is the interactive map which showed the distribution of earthquakes with the distribution of volcanoes. This activity showed that the location of volcanoes and earthquakes often overlap and often coincide with tectonic plate boundaries. Students and teachers will benefit from this SciPak as they discuss the layers of the earth and shows the relationship of where the earth's plates are located and earthquakes. Our students are amazed to know that our state sits on a faultline which makes our state susceptible to earthquakes.

Charnita W
Charnita W

  • on Tue Sep 15, 2015 6:37 PM

I believe the Science Object is very informative for readers. It could serve as a good resource in teaching plate tectonics to middle, high, and college level learners. Yet in my opinion, I believe the creators of the Science Object could have infused more technology to give a better understanding. For example, I believe many readers would love to play an interactive puzzle or control the separation of Pangaea. This would hold true for the chapter on synthesis. Instead of providing a map, an interactive software could assist the reader in hands on learning to get a clearer understanding. Overall, the Science Object is worth purchasing yet could be improved through the use of technology.

Papillon  (Atlanta, GA)
Papillon (Atlanta, GA)


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