Middle school

Plate tectonics, mountain formation, earthquakes

Last Updated Dec 3, 2020

This unit will introduce students to tectonic plates.  Students will develop questions after viewing satellite images showing uplift along the coast of New Zealand from 2010 to 2016.  Throughout the unit, students will analyze pieces of evidence to answer their questions and eventually come to understand tectonic plates’ role in causing uplift in land through mountain formation and earthquakes.


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Learning Objectives

Students will know

  • Tectonic plates
  • Fault types

Students will understand

  • Land uplift can occur due to either mountain formation or an earthquake at a reverse fault.  Both occur due to the motion of tectonic plates but both happen at drastically different time scales.

Students will be able to

  • Use interactives to determine if plate boundaries are transverse, convergent or divergent
  • Use an online model to investigate if subduction can create land uplift in the form of mountains
  • Use an at-home model to learn about the types of plate boundaries
  • Use an interactive to learn about the types of geologic events of the past
  • Describe what happened in New Zealand to create land uplift
Standards Alignments + Connections

Next Generation Science Standards Connections

MS-ESS2-2: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth’s surface at varying time and spatial scales.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Connections

6.10D: Describe how plate tectonics causes major geological events such as ocean basin formation, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building.


Introductory Phenomenon

Students are introduced to these two satellite photos of New Zealand in 2010 and 2016 showing coastal uplift.


Kaikoura, NZ 2010                                                         Kaikoura, NZ 2016

Students can capture their thoughts and questions in the document: What’s Going On?

Questions may include:

Did something happen between 2010 and 2016?

Is this the start of a mountain range?

Did humans cause this to happen through landfilling?

Did the oceans retreat from the coast?


Activities to Gather Evidence

Investigating Mountain Formation Processes

Students will be introduced to tectonic plates and their role in mountain formations. 

Students will use the Mountain Maker Interactive and/or Graham Cracker Tectonics to learn more about the types of plate interactions. 

Finally, students will use a model to investigate if subduction zones can lead to mountain formations and if the time scale for their formation is feasible for the viewed phenomena.

Investigating Earthquakes

Students will be introduced to video footage of an event in 2016 in New Zealand. 

Then students will investigate earthquakes and how they happen.  This also includes types of fault lines and which ones most commonly create land uplift.

Finally, students research some of the damage and devastation caused by this earthquake.

Conclusion Assessment

Students construct a claim backed up by evidence and reasoning to answer the following question: