Gosh I have learned heaps!!!  Geology was always something I was a bit evasive about (being a life scientist)… although I have covered rock types before (which students would have covered more thoroughly in year 8), and could draw the reactions to get from bauxite to aluminium – dug out of my brain from uni inorganic chemistry… I think I could happily go and get a degree in geology now that my interest has been sparked – maybe my enthusiasm is better spent encouraging students to do earth sciences!!!

Going back to my curriculum links mentioned previously…

The National Curriculum: Science / Year 9 / Science Understanding / Earth and space sciences

The theory of plate tectonics explains global patterns of geological activity and continental movement


  • recognising the major plates on a world map
  • modelling sea-floor spreading
  • relating the occurrence of earthquakes and volcanic activity to constructive and destructive plate boundaries
  • considering the role of heat energy and convection currents in the movement of tectonic plates
  • relating the extreme age and stability of a large part of the Australian continent to its plate tectonic history

Code ACSSU180

The Queensland State curriculum Science/ Year 9/ Knowledge and Understanding/ Earth and Beyond

Geological evidence can be interpreted to provide information about past and present events e.g. the earth’s surface is shaped by volcanoes and earthquakes, which can be understood in terms of the theory of plate tectonics.

I can safely say I am thoroughly equipped, knowledge wise, to do an entire unit on plate tectonics – in-fact I could easily do an interdisciplinary unit to bring in physics (volcanoes/earthquakes/tsunamis), maths (ditto), biology (effects of natural disasters on ecosystems and populations – haven’t covered that here but have a major in ecology from my first degree), social science (human impact/ laws and regulations/ economic impact), geography (mountain ranges/ the locations around the ring of fire…) and history (POMPEII… but also looking at the age and development of the earth through the different ages).

In order to ensure I develop teaching strategies to fit into the National Curriculum requirements I investigated the Year 9 science curriculum a little further to find links to other appropriate Science Understandings as well as where the understandings could link with Science as a Human Endeavour and Science Inquiry Skills.  See my notes in red on ideas.

From:  http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Science/Curriculum/F-10

Year 9 Content Descriptions

Science Understanding

Earth and space sciences

1. The theory of plate tectonics explains global patterns of geological activity and continental movement (ACSSU180). Obviously, the main unit focus – the full description of this Science Understanding can be seen above.  This topic lends itself well to be the focus of an inquiry-based learning unit using a 5Es format.    Pedagogical content will be developed to allow students to gain a deep understanding of this subject.  Students would already have covered rock types in year 8 which will be connected to this unit when looking at the earth’s crust, seismic and volcanic activity.  Students would have some experience learning about sudden geological changes in year 6 “Sudden geological changes or extreme weather conditions can affect Earth’s surface (ACSSU096)”.  In ACSSU096 students would have learned about volcanoes, tsunamis and/or earthquakes and this will be used as an engage tool and as a starting point to assess students’ alternate conceptions.  

Physical sciences

1. Forms of energy can be transferred in a variety of ways through different mediums (ACSSU182)  There is opportunity to connect energy transfer with tectonics in a variety of places – including convection currents, seismic waves and tsunamis.  Tectonics would be a fantastic unit to do before a unit where energy transfer is covered more thoroughly (understanding real world applications of energy transfer before they learn the details).  Students already have some experience in year 8 with energy forms.  

Science as a Human Endeavour

Nature and development of science

  1. Scientific understanding, including models andtheories, are contestable and are refined over time through a process of review by the scientific community (ACSHE157)
  2. Advances in scientific understanding often rely on developments in technology and technological advances are often linked to scientific discoveries(ACSHE158)
    Both of these points fit in well to the development of tectonic plate theory – so will be addressed in the unit.  It will be important, when mentioning Weneger’s ideas, to emphasis HIS MECHANISMS proposed for continental drift were not right (to avoid student confusion…) – even though he was right about the continents moving (although, more accurately, it is plates which the continents are part of which move).  Technological advancements leading to knowledge of tectonics include 1950s sonar equipment, the development and world placement of seismic readers, and of course, most recently, GPS satellites.  

Use and influence of science

  1. People can use scientific knowledge to evaluate whether they should accept claims, explanations or predictions (ACSHE160)
    Maybe we can use some of the ridiculous claims in newspapers about the state of our fault lines as an example of how students can apply their scientific knowledge to accept or reject claims (like the one mentioned in the Earthquakes post).  Geologists, in the past, also used their scientific knowledge to reject Weneger’s ideas about the mechanism of continental drift- science did not support his theory.  
  2. Advances in science and emerging sciences and technologies can significantly affect people’s lives, including generating new career opportunities (ACSHE161)  This we will see along the way when talking about volcanologists, geologists, seismologists… And also how new technology, like tsunami monitoring devices, can help to warn people of tsunamis and save their lives.  
  3. The values and needs of contemporary society can influence the focus of scientific research (ACSHE228) A good example of this is researching Australia’s fault lines and geology to help develop mechanisms for predicting areas most likely to be effected by earthquakes and tsunamis.  Researching our geology can help to guide the development of building codes and warning strategies to allow people in higher risk areas to live more safely (as influenced by the Newcastle earthquake of 1989).  A further example is in Japan – because Japan is on a fault and is, therefore, an area of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes – the majority of scientific research money in Japan is spent on earthquake and tsumami research.  

Science Inquiry Skills

Questioning and predicting

  1. Formulate questions or hypotheses that can be investigated scientifically (ACSIS164) It would perhaps be good to do an investigation into different soil types in an earthquake and how this could affect the stability of structures/ buildings/ roads 

Planning and conducting

  1. Plan, select and use appropriate investigationmethods, including field work and laboratory experimentation, to collect reliable data; assess risk and address ethical issues associated with these methods (ACSIS165)  See above – perhaps an investigation into different types of soils and earthquake impacts 
  2. Select and use appropriate equipment, including digital technologies, to systematically and accurately collect and record data (ACSIS166) See above investigation – tabulate data from investigation 

Processing and analysing data and information

  1. Analyse patterns and trends in data, including describing relationships between variables and identifying inconsistencies (ACSIS169)
  2. Use knowledge of scientific concepts to draw conclusions that are consistent with evidence (ACSIS170) This would be done in the investigation above, but also from questions given throughout the unit and recorded in log books.  


  1. Evaluate conclusions, including identifying sources of uncertainty and possible alternative explanations, and describe specific ways to improve the quality of the data (ACSIS171) Investigation above


  1. Communicate scientific ideas and information for a particular purpose, including constructing evidence-based arguments and using appropriate scientific language, conventions and representations (ACSIS174) This will be evident at many points through the unit during class discussions, log book?, formative and summative assessment opportunities.  

The science achievement standard (from Australian National Curriculum website http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Year9)

(appropriate parts in black)

By the end of Year 9, students use their knowledge to pose different types of questions that can be investigated using a range of inquiry skills. They apply their knowledge of science to explain phenomena in the environment and their own lives and describe how knowledge has developed through the work of scientists. They plan experimental procedures which include the accurate control and measurement of variables. They identify inconsistencies in results and suggest reasons for uncertainty in data. They use scientific language and representations when communicating their results and ideas.

Students use knowledge of body systems to explain how complex organisms respond to external changes. They use knowledge of interrelationships to describe how changes affect ecosystems. They explain geological features and events in terms of geological processes and timescales. They describe the structure of atoms and explain chemical changes in terms of the behaviour of atoms. They describe a range of chemical reactions and explain their importance. They compare, in qualitative terms, how two different forms of energy can be transferred. They describe interrelationships between science and technology and give examples of developments in science that have affected society.​

Looking further at Queensland state curriculum from the Queensland Studies Authority website http://www.qsa.qld.edu.au/downloads/early_middle/qcar_el_science_yr9.pdf.  Knowledge and Understanding in the Essential Learnings is also guided by the Ways of working (WoW).

Ways of working 

Students are able to:

•             identify problems and issues, formulate scientific questions and design investigations Earthquake investigation – see above 

•             plan investigations guided by scientific concepts and design and carry out fair tests Earthquake investigation 

•             research and analyse data, information and evidence Various points in explain/evaluate phase 

•             evaluate data, information and evidence to identify connections, construct arguments and link results to theory This could take the form of asking why volcanoes and earthquakes occur more often around plate boundaries.  Or picking a location and asking students to predict what geological activities would be common in that place given where it is situated in regards to types of plate boundaries.  

•             select and use scientific equipment and technologies to enhance the reliability and accuracy of data collected in investigations Perhaps this could be part of seismic reading investigations… 

•             conduct and apply safety audits and identify and manage risks could write that into an investigation…

•             draw conclusions that summarise and explain patterns, and that are consistent with the data and respond to the question analysis of data from investigation

•             communicate scientific ideas, explanations, conclusions, decisions and data, using scientific argument and terminology, in appropriate formats formative and summative assessment pieces 

•             reflect on different perspectives and evaluate the influence of people’s values and culture on the applications of science Australian indigenous people, along with many indigenous people from other nations, have religious associations with mountains and volcanoes and have developed rituals and superstitions to help live in harmony with these sacred places.  Australian indigenous people have developed stories to explain earthquakes and geological formations.  I think it would be worth having a local indigenous person give a talk on their perspectives of the Tweed Volcanic region during the course of this unit – even in the final class of the Evaluate phase perhaps when students are reflecting on the unit.  

•             reflect on learning, apply new understandings and justify future applications.  This would mainly be done in the elaborate/ evaluate phase of a 5Es unit – although may form part of summative assessment, and would to some degree be part of the reflection at the end of every class or section in this unit.  

Knowledge and understanding

Science as a human endeavour

•              Responsible, ethical and informed decisions about social priorities often require the application of scientific understanding – i.e. Should we live near volcanoes or in areas of high earthquake/ tsunami activity? What can we do to protect people who chose to live near these areas? Perhaps this is best in the explore phase 

Earth and beyond

•              Global patterns of change on earth and in its atmosphere can be predicted and modelled – e.g. Australia is moving north-east due to tectonic plate movement and is in the process of colliding with Asia.  We can predict areas of higher volcanic and seismic activity and potential effects this may have on weather patterns, acid rain, mountain building. 

•              Geological evidence can be interpreted to provide information about past and present events This is the main feature of this unit.  e.g. the earth’s surface is shaped by volcanoes and earthquakes, which can be understood in terms of the theory of plate tectonics.

Energy and change

•              Energy can be transferred from one medium to another see above

•              Transfer of energy can vary according to the medium in which it travels see above

•              Energy is conserved when it is transferred or transformed see above

See National curriculum notes above for links of energy concepts.  

Natural and processed materials

•              Changes in physical properties of substances can be explained using the particle model

This will be looked at during volcanism and convection currents – students would already have some experience in physical properties from previous years.  

This unit is perfectly situated to encourage an interest in Earth Science – offered as an Authority subject in years 11/12 in some schools.  This year 9 unit draws on year 7 Essential Leaning in Earth and Beyond “Changes to the earth occur over varying time periods and can be interpreted using geological evidence” and the year 5 Essential Learning in Earth and Beyond “Changes to the surface of the earth or the atmosphere have identifiable causes, including human and natural activity”.   As mentioned in National Curriculum notes above, these concepts will help to guide ways to determine alternate conceptions in the Engage phase of the unit.


There will be more on assessment later on (see the elaborate and evaluate phase!!!).  In our 5E’s unit planning we did learn it was best to work out what you want the students to know, and how you are going to assess it, before writing the 5E’s.

so… What I want the students to know…

Combining facets of Knowledge & Understanding, Science as a Human Endeavor and Science Inquiry Skills listed above from the Australian National Curriculum, and the Essential Learnings Knowledge and Understanding and Ways of Working from the Queensland State Curriculum (QSA) above…

By the end of this unit I want students to be able to:

  1.  Recognise that a scientific theory is developed and refined over time through rigorous testing
  2.  Recognise the major tectonic plates on a world map
  3.  Recognise different boundary types and their properties (converging, diverging, transform)
  4.  Understand convection currents and their ability to drag lithospheric plates around
  5.  Understand how plate boundary activity leads to sea floor spreading, volcanoes and earthquakes
  6.  Recognise different kinds of volcanoes are due to different kinds of eruptions and the silica composition of the magma is responsible for the explosiveness of the eruption.
  7. Recognise hot spot activity may produce volcanoes and that hot spots stay relatively stationary, in comparison to the moving plates
  8. Recognise scientists’ roles in understanding, assessing and monitoring tectonic activity, the role of structural engineers in developing tsunami breaks and earthquake-safe buildings and how technological advances.
  9. Recognise the technology used in monitoring of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes and how advances in technology have increased our understanding of plate tectonics
  10. Recognise Australia’s tectonic history, including around the Gold Coast, and acknowledge the indigenous perspectives of these events
  11. Understand how seismic waves, liquefaction and tsunamis occur

There is quite a bit of stuff to assess above so I suggest assessment in 2 parts:

Assessment piece – 50%.  Assessment piece 1 could take the form of a presentation.  Students could investigate a particular natural (e.g. Boxing Day earthquake/ tsunami); describe the science behind it and how technology or human intervention may prevent a future event being so devastating.   I would do this as a co-operative learning exercise and allow students to use multimedia or PowerPoint to do their presentation.  This could be done in friendship pairs or in teacher allocated pairs depending on the class.  English as a second language students and special needs students may benefit from the multimedia rather than face-to-face presentation format.  Disasters could be allocated to student groupings so that more complicated events were given to advanced students and students with learning difficulties could be given less complex (but still challenging) events (such as Christchurch earthquake or Newcastle Earthquake).  This assignment would assess a student’s ability to apply their knowledge to a new situation – i.e. describing their natural event in terms of what is happening with the tectonic plates, convection currents etc., right up to how the events are assessed in terms of magnitude and what can be done by humans / technology to reduce impact.  More details on this assessment piece will be put in the Elaborate or Evaluate section of this blog…

Assessment piece 2 – 50%.  For the second assessment, students could be given a choice of either handing in a learning log, completed throughout the course of the unit, or a test in the last class of the unit.  Both means of assessment would be suitable and a teacher may prefer to set one or the other depending on the class.  The learning log could be completed in a provided A4 exercise book or on a student’s laptop (if you have a 1 laptop per student learning environment) as a blog or a wiki.  The learning log would contain notes from the entire unit, a summary/ reflection written by the student at the conclusion of each lesson (homework) and answers to any questions given as homework.  A test, if preferred, would contain questions relating to each of the desired outcomes above.  Learning Logs, particularly when done on computer, can benefit learning disadvantaged and English as a second language students (because they can take their time compiling it) so would be the preferred method of assessment if these students are present in the class.  More details on how this will be assessed will be put in the Evaluate section of this blog …

The log book, regardless of whether it will be used as summative assessment, makes an excellent tool for formative assessment so students log books, blogs or wiki pages will be reviewed throughout the unit.

diagnostic assessment will also be carried out to determine students alternate conceptions, and level of understanding, prior to moving on from a task or activity.


So following my last step of construction of my knowledge I revisited my quiz, which doesn’t look nearly as scary now – actually it looks totally inadequate for a quiz on the subject of plate tectonics…

The quiz, as mentioned previously, came from the Soft School website  http://www.softschools.com/quizzes/science/plate_tectonics/quiz415.html

1. The observation that the continents fit together like puzzle pieces, and may once have been connected, led Alfred Wegener to propose a theory in 1910 called

A: continental plowing

B: continental drift

C: wandering continents

D: shape matching of continents


2. The essence of Wegener’s idea was sound, based on some scientific observations. Which of the following supported his theory?

A: Matching fossil plant remains found on two different continents

B: Matching reptile remains found on two different continents

C: nearly identical sedimentary rock types of same age in widely separated locations

D: all of the above

3. The development of submarine warfare druing World War II created a pressing need to map the ocean floor. This actually led to research on the ocean floor that would help explain the movement of the continents. What tool was used to do this mapping?

A: underwater cameras

B: sonar surveys

C: studies of living things

D: rock sampling

4. Scientists found that the continents were moving apart from each other due to magma rising out of mid-ocean ridges, and they called this

A: sea floor spreading

B: sea floor rising

C: changing sea floor

D: underwater volcanos

5. The Earth’s continents were once connected in one giant continent called

A: Eurasia

B: Indo-Australia

C: Pangaea

D: Pacifica

6. The Earth’s crust is divided into 7 major plates, which include all of the continents. Along which two plates do we see major earthquake activity?

A: Pacific and North/South American

B: Pacific and Eurasian/Indian

C: South American and African

D: A and B both

7. Wegener’s old theory, called sea floor spreading, was found too simplistic because it did not explain how the continents would move. It was replaced by a theory called

A: plate tectonics

B: crustal forces

C: paleomagnetism

D: weather forces

RED ALERT HERE!!!! the concept of sea floor spreading out from the earth splitting was mentioned by Wegener as a possible cause of continental drift – he did not have a theory called sea floor spreading – he wrote about the possibility in one paper and then moved onto other things so I have read… I thought it was Harry Hess, 30 years after the death of Wegener, who proposed sea floor spreading as a mechanism for continental drift and was instrumental in forming tectonic plate theory…

perhaps they should have made the question about his continental drift theory…

8. Plate tectonics is our current theory of how the movement of continental masses relates to the movement of ocean basins. This movement explains many phenomena, such as

A: earthquakes

B: volcanoes

C: weather patterns

D: all of the above

9. Plate margins are places where much activity occurs. Earthquakes occur, for example, along convergent margins, where plates are

A: moving apart

B: sliding past each other

C: colliding

10. Volcanoes occur in similar locations to earthquakes, and are common along plate boundaries. Sixty percent of volcanoes occur surrounding the Pacific Ocean, a location called

A: “the hot zone”

B: “the Ring of Fire”

C: “the Volcano Zone”

11. Plate tectonics can also be the direct cause of forming

A: lakes

B: streams

C: mountains

D: oceans

12. Plate tectonics, or the movement of pieces of Earth’s crust, is thought to be caused by

A: volcanoes

B: earthquakes

C: convection currents in Earth’s mantle

D: hot spots

Theme :               Plate Tectonics Science Quizzes                              Result: 12/12       

Number               Actual   Your Answer(s)

Review – 1           B             B

Review – 2           D             D

Review – 3           B             B

Review – 4           A             A

Review – 5           C             C

Review – 6           D             D

Review – 7           A             A

Review – 8           D             D

Review – 9           C             C

Review – 10         B             B

Review – 11         C             C

Review – 12         C             C


 Now for teaching this stuff to year 9s!!!