Lessons and Activities

The Quake-Catcher Network is designed to be an educational tool for describing earthquakes and earthquake science in the classroom. For this purpose, we include a demonstration program called QCNLive for learning using lesson plans. QCNLive is a free program and can be downloaded from this webpage.

1) Shake Things Up!

by NEES, recommended for grades 9-12

Even with technology today, earthquakes are still quite unpredictable. Fortunately, structures can be built to withstand the stresses induced by a large tremor. One way to simulate an earthquake and test a building’s durablility safely and without too much cost is to use a shake table. Data collected from these experiments can improve building design and standards. Shake Things Up! provides a step-by-step process to make your own simple shake table. The QCN sensor may be used to collect information about the amount of acceleration your model building can withstand.

2) Make Your Own Earthquake

by NEES, recommended for grades K-12

Students will be able to generate energy waves and observe their amplitudes as recorded by a simple seismometer. They can be asked to interpret graphs produced by the QCN sensors as well as to describe the energy in different mechanical forms.

Instructions for grades K-4
Instructions for grades 5-8
Instructions for grades 9-12

3) Earthquake Machine

by USGS, recommended for grades 9-12

Strong earthquakes release an explosive force that wreak havoc on the ground above, but such quakes happen far less frequently than their weaker counterparts. In addition, notable earthquakes are often preceded and suceeded by many foreshocks and aftershocks, respectively. This experiment seeks to answer these questions with a relatively simple setup. By modifying the setup and observing the reactions, different types of earthquakes can be simulated.

4) What is a seismometer

by Jennifer Saltzman

Because seismography is essential to the detection and analysis of earthquakes, a thorough understanding of how they work is encouraged. This activity plan aims to demonstrate how a seismometer uses the three spatial components to piece together an earthquake. Real and hypothetical earthquake scenarios are explored during the course of this activity.

Download PDF: Grades K-8
Download PDF: Grades 9-12

5) Introduction to the Quake-Catcher Network and Lab

by Deborah Kane

This activity reviews the concept of acceleration and then introduces students to a sensor that records acceleration. The lab exercise leads the students through several exploratory questions and suggestions and ultimately asks them to consider what this sensor is used for outside of the classroom. This activity requires advance preparation to order the sensors, as noted in the Description and Teaching Materials (below).

Download for Microsoft Word

6) Magnitude and Intensity Lab


by (Option 1) Deborah Kane and (Option 2) IRIS

This activity describes the differences between an earthquake’s magnitude and intensity and then has students experiment with the Quake-Catcher Network sensor to explore these concepts. Earthquake magnitude is a property of the earthquake itself, and does not change for a given earthquake regardless of where the earthquake is recorded. A measure of intensity describes the ground motion felt at a given location and varies spatially for a given earthquake.

Download Activity (MS Word) (Option 1)
Download Worksheet (MS Word) (Option 2)
Download SlideShow (MS PPT File) (Option 2)

7) Exploring three-component seismic data with accelerometers


In this activity, students will use an accelerometer (iPhone, laptop or USB) to kinesthetically explore the physical ‘meaning’ of three component seismic data by replicating a seismogram by moving the accelerometer.

Download for Microsoft Word
Download PDF

8) Soil Liquefaction


A building’s integrity can be compromised by the soil upon which it rests during an earthquake. When saturated, uncompacted soil experiences sufficient stress – such as that from an earthquake – its strength and stiffness virtually disappears. This activity simulates liquefaction’s effect on buildings. Extensions to compaction, soil mixing, deep pile foundations, etc.

9) How ‘hard’ does the ground shake during an earthquake?

by IRIS (Michael Hubenthal)

In this activity, students will use a three-component accelerometer (iPhone, laptop or USB) to examine their assumptions about how ‘hard’ the ground shakes during an earthquake.

Download for Microsoft Word
Download PDF
Download PPT SlideShow activity

10) Slinky Demonstration

by the Exploratorium, recommended for grades K-12

Using slinkies as a medium for visualizing earthquake waves, this demonstration allows students to differentiate between P-waves, S-waves, Love waves, and Raleigh waves. By tracking the motion of a point on the slinky with the QCN sensor, a quantitative approximation of the different types of waves can be shown. Supplementary instruction can further elaborate on the characteristics of each.

11) FELT earthquake location interactive web-tool:

by Matt Lehmann, Dr. Youwen Ouyang, and Debi Kilb

This activity leads students through picking the travel times of earthquakes, and triangulation of an earthquake. The interactive web-based system is intuitive, with sound effects and everything.

12) Earthquakes and Buildings Lab


by QCN, recommended for grades 4-8

Using limited resources such as paper and tape, students are asked to create an “earthquake-resistant” structure. This lab tests students’ creativity and practicality to engineer a strong building. After successful construction, an analysis of the structure’s stability is conducted using QCN sensors. Documentation of progress and results is encouraged.

13) BOSS Lite Model

by IRIS, recommended for grades 7-12

Whether a building shares the same resonant frequency with an earthquake or not can determine the damage a building sustains. Understanding how resonance works and its effects on structures is of great importance in architectural design and construction. This demonstration helps to illustrate the concept of resonance with relatively simple materials. Questions are posed that help students gain better insight in the phenomenon.

These activities were designed to use QCNLive as the main teaching tool. These activities could supplement classroom instruction that you are already doing. There are several websites that have some great activities for instruction for all ages.
We welcome your feedback on these activities and other activities that you develop in the classroom. Please contact Jennifer Saltzman.


Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology Education and Outreach provide a series of very useful teachable moments and activities parallel.
Seismology Education with many many activities for all from Professor Larry Braile at Purdue University
Earthquake Resources for Teachers from the US Geological Survey
Can we predict earthquakes? 6 minute audio interview with a USGS scientist.
Virtual Earthquake – An inquiry-based activity that helps students learn the fundamental concepts about earthquake waves including epicenter local and Richter magnitude.