Newburyport sixth-graders studying the science of earthquakes – WickedLocal Newburyport


WickedLocal Newburyport

Sixth-grade science students at Nock Middle School are making the Earth move and watching it do so on their EQ-1 electromagnetic seismograph. This “Earth-shaking” research is all part of the federal Next Generation Science Standards.

“We study earthquakes,” sixth-grade science teacher Tamba Bissell said, “and this is the real world connection to what we study. It allows us to monitor earthquakes all over the world in real time. The kids get fired up about it. They feel connected.”

“We even had a group jump in here,” sixth-grade science teacher Lisa Alexander said, “and recorded it. They made the ground shake and continue to do so. The kids love it.”

In 2015, the Newburyport Education Foundation (NEF) paid for the EQ-1, an electromagnetic seismograph with a magnet suspended over a coil of wire. When an earthquake occurs, the frame of the EQ-1 shakes in response to the earth moving underneath it. As the frame shakes, the coil moves under the magnet producing an electric current. This electric current flows from the EQ-1 to a computer that translates the amount of electric current created into seismic waves and displays them on the monitor.

Six sixth-graders were chosen by their teachers to form a “Seismograph Experts” team to monitor the seismograph: Riley McLoy, Bodie Godtfredsen, Brela Pavao, Bristol Banovic, Will Pflaum, and Matthew McDougal.

“These kids were chosen based on their knowledge and interest to be our Seismograph Experts for three years,” Alexander said. “They’re creating a website blog and updating it every time there is an earthquake. Anyone can log in and see any earthquake activity happening in Newburyport. It’s very exciting.”

“Our teacher will say, ‘There’s an earthquake happening right now,’” Bristol said, “and we get to record it on our blog.”

The Nock EQ-1 is connected to the Boston College Educational Seismology Project at Weston Observatory and the Worldwide Seismological Tracking website.

“There are three types of waves,” Will said, “P waves, S waves, and surface waves. The P waves come in first because they move the fastest. Then the S waves comes in second fastest and then the surface waves come in the strongest and do the most damage. Smaller waves come afterwards and are called aftershocks.”

Aftershocks can go on for months and even years, Alexander said.

“Today there are many waves,” Matthew said last week, “because of the eclipse.”

“The eclipse of the super full moon made the tides much stronger,” Alexander said, “so we record the movement of the tides and their impact on the Earth.”

On Jan. 23, the EQ-1 registered a 7.9 earthquake in Kodiak, Alaska.

“Some of us came in and watched it as the black lines came in recording the earthquake,” Brela said. “It’s really cool.”

“We have an earthquake chart outside in the hall,” Bristol said, “and a map.”

“If there is an earthquake on your birthday,” Brela said, it goes on the chart. “We keep track of all the sixth graders’ birthdays and put on a sticker.”

“They researched earthquakes that happened on the days they were born,” Alexander said. “In the past three years, we’ve only had one person – a teaching assistant – who didn’t have an earthquake on their birth date.”

So what creates an earthquake?

The Earth’s “plates are constantly in motion,” Riley said, “and sometimes they get stuck when they pass each other and pressure builds up and the plates slip releasing a huge amount of energy outwardly in waves.”

“The plates are pieces of the Earth’s crust,” Will said, “and are constantly in motion because of the Earth’s mantle, which is made of magma, which is moving around and constantly rising and falling. “It’s called convection current. At the Earth’s core it’s very hot. The magma heats up and rises and then cools down and falls. It’s a circular motion and spreads the plates apart and pushes them together. Our seismograph is connected to the Weston Observatory so they can compare it to other seismographs and determine the magnitude (of the earthquake) and where it was.”

As if watching earthquakes happen in real time weren’t enough, the students have also created Seismic Super Hero cartoon characters. It’s all part of the sixth-grade study of Our Changing Earth.

“It’s a great unit,” Alexander said. “We’re having a ball. We never know what we will find when we will come in and check the seismograph. The kids just love it.”

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