Using Computational Thinking to Understand Earthquakes A looping video of a seismograph attached to a laptop.

Using Computational Thinking to Understand Earthquakes

Students build a seismograph to visualize earthquake data and explore modern engineering techniques used to mitigate earthquake damage. Then, they engage in an Excel big data activity to understand plate tectonics.

Lesson Basics

Takes 2 to 3 weeks of classroom time

Costs approximately $2.00 to $5.00 USD per student, excluding tools and microcontroller

Meets middle school science, technology, engineering and math standards (STEM)

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Materials developed in partnership with the California Academy of Sciences & KQED

Earthquakes and Tectonic Plates


We are proud to feature this lesson plan developed by the California Academy of Sciences and KQED.


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Seismograph Instructions


A step-by-step guide for building the Seismograph. Includes templates, a list of things you need and detailed instructions.


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Tuned Mass Damper Instructions


A step-by-step guide for building the Tuned Mass Damper. Includes templates, a list of things you need and detailed instructions.


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Customized Excel Workbook


A customized Excel workbook visualizes real-time data generated by seismographs and Tuned Mass Damper (TMD). Requires the Data Streamer add-in listed below.


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Materials List


A spreadsheet with links to online resources to help you bring these projects to your classroom.


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Code for the Project


Pre-built code for your microcontroller to help you and your students visualize live data.


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Technical requirements

Data Streamer Add-in

Modernize your existing copy of Microsoft Excel with this free add-in to support real-time data streaming from your projects.

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Microsoft Excel 2016 (Desktop)

Students and teachers are eligible for free Office 365 Education, which includes online Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.

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Arduino IDE

The free Integrated Development Environment enables you to write code that connects your project to an Arduino microcontroller.

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Windows 10

This project requires a PC running Windows 10. To update your version of Windows, click here.

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Hacking STEM library

Hacking STEM offers bite-sized, hands-on, teacher-tested projects and activities that use everyday materials to make STEM affordable, accessible, and fun for everyone. Browse our library for downloadable, printable materials.


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