NAGT > Teaching Resources > Teaching Activities > A Kinesthetic Demonstration for Locating Earthquake Epicenters

A Kinesthetic Demonstration for Locating Earthquake Epicenters

John Keyantash
California State University, Dominguez Hills
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see

This page first made public: Dec 12, 2013

A kinesthetic activity for students to understand the technique for locating the epicenter of an earthquake. It is performed indoors and outdoors in three lessons.



This activity is designed for middle-school students. However, I plan to use an accelerated variant of it for a college introductory earth science course for non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

Some background on earthquake wave forms.

How the activity is situated in the course:

It is intended to be used as either a stand-alone exercise, or as an activity supporting a unit in earth sciences.

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:

California 6th grade Science Standards 1g, 7a
California Mathematics Science Standards for Number Sense (1.2), Algebra and Functions (1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 2.2, 2.3) and Mathematical Reasoning (2.3).


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

For students to understand how differing seismic wave arrival times can be incoporated into an methodology to decipher the origin of an earthquake.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

The higher order concepts involve mathematics. Students will appreciate how the arrival time lag can be used to algebraically deduce the distance away to the wave origin. They will also be exposed to the concept that while a circle represents an isolated set of possible solutions, intersecting circles form the set of simultaneous solutions.

Other skills goals for this activity:

Description of the activity/assignment

This activity has students bodily move as propagating seismic waves. They record their travel time along a string of measured length to compute average wave velocities. They then enact an earthquake, and use the time lag between wave arrival times and their computed speeds to determine the position of the epicenter.

Determining whether students have met the goals

If the student activities can replicate the position of the earthquake initiation, then they have successfully enacted the exercise. However, successful detective work is a secondary goal. The primary goals are to: 1) understand what is meant by compressional and sinusoidal waves, 2) to appreciate how their arrival time lag can be used to deduce the distance away to their origin, and 3) understand that if a circle forms a set of solutions, intersecting circles form the set of simultaneous solutions.

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Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Environmental Science:Natural Hazards:Earthquakes, Geoscience:Geology:Geophysics:Seismology
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Field Activity
Special Interest: Hazards, Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: Middle (6-8)
Ready for Use: Ready to Use
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Earthquakes, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science, Teach the Earth:Incorporating Societal Issues:Hazards, Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Geophysics