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Teaching Resources for the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami

Eric Brunsell

Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh
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The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan is on the minds of all of us, including our students. The event and aftermath is tragic and the continuing nuclear emergency is a reminder of how fragile society can be. As educators, we can help our students make sense of these events and give them the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of their world.

In their book, Comprehension and Collaboration, Daniels and Harvey provide a comprehensive vision of what inquiry can look like in the classroom. They describe the following components that can easily be used to bring the Japanese earthquake into your classroom.

Immerse: Invite Curiosity and Wonder
Introduce the topic by asking your students what they already know about the disaster. Follow this by brainstorming a list of "wonderings" that students have. You may want to set the context for the discussion by reading a small excerpt from a news article or by showing a video.

Investigate: Develop Questions, Search for Information, and Discover Answers
Individuals or small groups select and refine a broad question that they find interesting. You should help students with their question so that it provides an opportunity for them to delve into a topic and consider multiple sources of information. Students can use the web, library resources, and other media to search for information.

Coalesce: Synthesize Information and Build Knowledge
Students should identify a small number of "knowledge claims" that they have learned from their research. These claims should be supported by evidence from multiple media sources.

Go Public: Demonstrate Understanding and Share Learning
Students can share their learning in a variety of ways. For example, they can create newspaper articles, videos, audio podcasts, posters, or infographics. The resources below provide a variety of perspectives on the Japanese earthquake. Some of the resources may not be suitable for all children.

Talking with Kids about Catastrophes

Plate Tectonics


Earthquakes & Tsunamis

Earthquake and Tsunami Safety

Nuclear Reactors


This post also appears as an NSTABlog.

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Eric Brunsell

Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh

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Ryan's picture

The tragedy of the Japan earthquake is on the mind of not only adults but also our students. I have found them interested, emotional, and unsure about a lot of the things that are occuring as a result of the disaster. It has posed so many questions I have found it difficult to move on and even answer all the questions. I found these sites to be very useful to give myself some good background but I am afraid I am going to get hung up answering all their questions. I am planning on spending the next week trying to link things together but I am questioning my assessment practices. I am going to try one of the formative assessments above but am nervous about their research skills. Any ideas how I could keep this basic for 4th graders so they can do a nice job?

Allen Berg's picture
Allen Berg
curriculum and projects learning centers

Dear Colleagues,

I am a Visual Learner so to help Teachers nationwide "learn and teach" about the Tsunami Tragedy in Japan, I found this Excellent PowerPoint Presentation about "The Physics of Tsunami Waves" at Google Docs...
The link has enormous code, but it works! :-)
Make sure you click to the second slide which is the start of the presentation: it has the Title: "Physics of a Tsunami"

And pay particular attention to the "Differences between a regular ocean wave & a tsunami wave"!!! This is critically important.

And a Water Wave does NOT move Mass it moves Energy!!!
That is why a Tsunami Wave can travel at the speed of a jet plane!!!

The Ocean Water is simply re-adjusting to the Massive shift of the Massive Volume of Water displaced by the under-ocean earthquake
(Techtonic Plates slippage ["subduction"(?)]) and is simply falling down with the force of reach a new 'equilibrium level'...

So it is important to understand and explain to your students that:
The ocean water that "hit" Hawaii and then the Coast of California,
is NOT ocean water that travelled all the way (6,000 miles) from Japan!!!
It is the 'local' ocean water reacting to the Tsunami Energy Wave, that did indeed travel 6,000 miles from Japan! at 600mph!, across the Entire
Pacific Ocean!!!

enuf 4 be continued

Allen Berg

Allen Berg's picture
Allen Berg
curriculum and projects learning centers

Dear Colleagues,

Just in case the Google Docs link does NOT work for some computer users
(I just tried to copy it at an online yahoo group and received a screen message: "Permission Denied"...)

Do a Google Search for "Tsunami Wave Physics" and look for the first page listing that reveals it is a PowerPoint Presentation (PPT):
here enclosed...

Google Search Result:

[PPT] Physics of Tsunami - 2 visits - 6:41pmFile Format: Microsoft Powerpoint - "Quick View" (this is the Google docs link!!!)
Physics of Tsunami. By: Febdian Rusydi. Aree Witolear ... Unlike a normal wave, energy of a tsunami moves through the water, not on top of it. Velocity: ...

Hope this is helpful...

Allen Berg

Eric Brunsell's picture
Eric Brunsell
Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh

If this is your students first time doing an inquiry / research project, you should have them work in small groups. Start by brainstorming questions, but help them select one that is constrained. Provide them with specific resources in order to help them initially find information. Then, give them a specific format for summarizing what they have learned -- they should use specific evidence from their research to support any claims that they make about their question.

In addition, as they select an article or online resource to read / view, they should make sure they keep their question in mind as they read.

Initially, it is also helpful to model this process with students. It can often be overwhelming the first time, but as they have more experience, they become more adept at the process.

I don't want to sound like an advertiser, but the book that I reference at the beginning provides a lot of resources for inquiry skill development (in literacy) and a variety of inquiry models (from very short to long projects).

ShayneF - 1328's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Earthquake and tsunami were the reasons for the thousands of lives taken in the country of Japan.
On March 11, the nation of Japan was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami. During these events, the Fukushima nuclear energy building was destroyed, which led to two separate explosions.
I read this here: Fukushima reactor explosion could mean end of nuclear power Three of the 6 reactors at the Fukushima building were destroyed, 2 of which suffered explosions as a result. Analysts fear that the incident signals a possible conclusion of the nuclear power industry.
By this, I know that many people were traumatized by the said force of nature. I can imagine and hear the cry of many people there and it sounds pitiful for them. If someone could rescue them but by the fact that we cannot control the nature from being destructive in a sense that there could be next properties will be annihilated. I hope they could find peace.

Dolores Gende's picture

Thank you for the resources.
I created two PhysicsQuests that are appropriate for 9-12 graders
1. Waves in Nature
It is divided into two sections: Earthquakes and Tsunamis.
2. Atomic and Nuclear Physics
This activity explores nuclear fission and fusion.
In both activities the students will answer questions by reading and synthesizing the information given in the links.

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