Strand V
Use Scientific Knowledge from the Earth and Space Sciences in Real-World Contexts


Science/Strand V
Content Standard 1
All students will describe the Earth’s surface; describe and explain how the Earth’s features change over time; and analyze effects of technology on the Earth’s surface and resources. (Geosphere)


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1
High School


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1/High School
Benchmark 2
Use the plate tectonics theory to explain features of the Earth’s surface and geological phenomena and describe evidence for the plate tectonics theory.

Benchmark Clarification

Scientists use the plate tectonics theory to explain surface and oceanic features of the Earth. Plate tectonics theory suggests that large sections, or plates, of the Earth’s outer layer are moving at measurable rates in different directions.

Students will:

  • Interpret the early evidence of continental movements, such as similarities across continents in existing animals, plants, fossils, shoreline shapes, and rock layer sequences
  • Illustrate how seafloor bedrock patterns and age (paleo-magnetism) provide convincing evidence of plate motions
  • Differentiate between continents and plates
  • Identify plate boundaries as lines of earthquakes on a world earthquake map
  • Describe the causes of earthquakes as compression (plates moving together), tension (plates moving apart), or shearing (plates sliding sideways)

Key Concept / Real World Context / Instructional Example / Assessment Example / Resources


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1/High School/Benchmark 2
Key Concept
Earth composition:

  • crust
  • mantle: upper part is able to flow very slowly
  • core- interior at high temperature and pressure

See Temperature and Pressure (SCI.V.4.HS.3).

See Earthquakes (SCI.IV.4.MS.6).


  • tension
  • compression
  • shearing


  • continental crust
  • oceanic crust


  • faults
  • trenches
  • mid-ocean ridges
  • folded mountains
  • hot spots
  • volcanoes

Related actions:

  • earthquakes
  • volcanic activity
  • seafloor spreading
  • mountain building
  • convection in mantle

Evidence of “continental drift”:

  • physical fit of continents
  • fossil evidence
  • glacial evidence
  • measurements of movement
  • rock layer sequence


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1/High School/Benchmark 2
Real World Context

  • recent patterns of earthquake and volcanic activities
  • maps showing the direction and movement of major plates and associated earthquake and volcanic activity
  • compressional boundaries: folded mountains, thrust faults, trenches (subduction zones), lines of volcanoes (e.g., Pacific “ring of fire”)
  • tensional boundaries: mid-ocean ridges, rift valleys
  • shearing boundaries: lateral movement producing faults (e.g., San Andreas Fault)


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1/High School/Benchmark 2
Instructional Example
Benchmark Question: What evidence is there that the Earth’s outer layer is composed of large pieces that are moving?

Focus Question: How can the location of earthquakes be used to show plate boundaries?

The teacher will provide each student with a world map.

Students will research earthquake location data for a period of many years using the internet or other sources. The teacher will demonstrate how to plot epicenters by using a website that automatically plots them over a period of years. Working with a partner, students will plot epicenters on the map using latitude and longitude.

Extension: Students can distinguish the nature of plate boundaries based on earthquake magnitudes: compressional (larger magnitudes, shallow to deep hypocenters, subduction common) and tensional (smaller magnitudes, shallow hypocenters, rifting common.

Constructing: (SCI.I.1.HS.4).

Reflecting: (SCI.II.1.HS.1).


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1/High School/Benchmark 2
Assessment Example
Each student will be given a world map including epicenter locations along with magnitude and depth to hypocenter data. “Hypocenter” is a modern alternative to “focus,” the place underground where the slippage actually began. The teacher will assign a particular plate to each student. The student will analyze that plate’s boundaries and distinguish between tensional and compressional boundaries.

Note: A tensional plate boundary is characterized by shallow hypocenter, lower magnitude quakes. A compressional boundary involving an ocean plate is often a subduction zone where quakes are arranged in deepening bands under the continent and where magnitudes tend to be greater.

(Give students rubric before activity.)

Scoring Rubric






Analysis of data

Identifies one: either type of boundary, depth of hypocenters, or magnitudes.

Identifies two: boundary and either depth of hypocenters or magnitude.

Identifies all three: types of boundary, depth of hypocenters, and magnitude of quakes.

Identifies and explains with the aid of a diagram the relationships between type of boundary, depth of hypocenters, and magnitude of quakes.


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 1/High School/Benchmark 2

USGS Explanation of Plate Tectonics: easy to digest discussion of the major types of plate boundaries with geographic examples.

Plate Tectonics and the Cause of Earthquakes: a well illustrated discussion of plate tectonics and the cause of earthquakes.

CEEP (Crustal Evolution Education Project Modules). National Association of Geology Teachers, 1996.

Causes of earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis with animations.


Plate tectonics.

Plate tectonics modules, hurricanes, El Nino, wind and ozone depletion. MESTA, 2000.1.

Seismological Laboratory.

Tectonics and ocean floor data. MESTA, 2000.1.