VEPP: A guided inquiry - Three months in the life of a volcano

Jennifer Thomson, Eastern Washington University
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This is an exercise that is in development and has not yet been fully tested in the classroom. Please check back regularly for updates and changes.

This guided inquiry will investigate the three month phase of activity in the vicinity of Pu`u `O`o and the summit region (June 1, 2007 – August 30, 2007).

Students will examine already prepared monitoring data derived from the VEPP website (GPS, tilt and seismic), and, with guidance, discover what other information is available to understand and speculate on the nature of the activity, including webcams, videos, still images, maps, and press releases.

Full length description:

Prior to doing this introductory laboratory exercise, students should be introduced to the basic instruments used in volcano monitoring. Before class, students will be provided with an assignment to reinforce their understanding about the techniques used in volcano monitoring.

During lab, students (in small groups) will be provided with the data files from a three month period of time in the vicinity of Pu`u `O`o and the summit region (June 1, 2007 – August 30, 2007) (GPS, RSAM and Tilt) at the start of the exercise. The data files are provided under Instructor Materials below.

A worksheet will be provided to the students to guide them through the initial investigation of the graphs. Example questions include: What is the data showing in each of the graphs? Are there any specific events that are evident in your graph? As a group, can you determine if the events seen in one graph correlate to events seen in any of the other graphs? A discussion of what data the graphs are illustrating will be facilitated by the instructor.

Once students have examined and understand what the data is showing, they will propose hypotheses to explain the observed data trends and correlations. Through just-in-time teaching (JiTT), students will be provided with or guided to further information that may assist them in discovering the nature of the activity. For example, they can request to see maps, videos, webcams, and images of the area during the three-month period spanned by the exercise.

Materials for implementing this laboratory are provided for instructors and students (forthcoming).

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals


(1) Develop skills necessary to describe and interpret graphical data sets

(2) Promote inquiry and curiosity

Higher order thinking skills

(1) Understand the process of science

(2) Analysis and interpretation of data

(3) Formulation of hypotheses through group work

(4) Communication, team work, cooperative learning

Other skills

(1) Working in groups

(2) Searching the Internet or other resources for scientific information

Context for Use

This is a lab activity and is designed to be completed in a three hour lab period as part of a sequence of laboratory exercises in an introductory physical geology course for majors (up to 40 students). Individual student computers are not absolutely necessary during the lab.

Students should be familiar with the general geologic setting of the Big Island of Hawaii and have a general understanding of the instrumentation used in monitoring volcanoes. A pre-lab assignment designed to introduce monitoring tools can be implemented.

Description and Teaching Materials


Materials for instructors

Instrument Station Location Maps (Acrobat (PDF) 6.3MB Jul30 10)

Kilauea Map (Acrobat (PDF) 188kB Jul30 10)

Earthquake Map 6/17-6/20 (Acrobat (PDF) 1MB Jul30 10)

Tilt data Pu`u`O`o - 06/01-08/30 (Acrobat (PDF) 119kB Jul30 10)

GPS data Pu`u`O`o - 06/01-08/30 (Acrobat (PDF) 148kB Jul30 10)

RSAM data - June 2007 (Acrobat (PDF) 42kB Jul30 10)

RSAM data - July 2007 (Acrobat (PDF) 88kB Jul30 10)

RSAM data - July 19-25,2007 (Acrobat (PDF) 65kB Jul30 10)


Pu`u `O`o - July 1-15, 2007 (Quicktime Video 2.8MB Jul29 10)

Pu`u `O`o - July 16-31,2007 (Quicktime Video 2.9MB Jul29 10)

Active Lava Flow 8-8-07 (Quicktime Video 3.8MB Jul29 10)

Materials for students - forthcoming

A lab worksheet will be developed with leading questions pertaining to the graphs provided. A preliminary worksheet is posted here: Student worksheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 122kB Jul30 10)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Accessing the VEPP Web site ( requires a password, which can be obtained by sending an email with your name, affiliation, and intended use of the site to mpoland "at"

Please describe any helpful examples of this activity, as well as any potential variations on this theme:

What tips might you offer to other educators planning to use this activity?


Describe briefly how you determine whether students have met the goals of this assignment or activity.

Participation, engagement in discussion in small groups and class as a whole.

Short, group write-up of hypotheses derived from graphs.

Individual write-up summarizing the graphs and ancillary observations.

References and Resources

Please list any supporting references or URLs for this activity:


USGS Volcano Hazards Program -

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