Glencoe Earth Science

Unit 3: Earth's Internal Processes

Unit Project 1

Build a Seismograph

Project Type: Model
Working with a partner, have students research how to design and build a seismograph. Using technology, have students identify problems past scientists have confronted, develop a system for evaluating their own design and model, plan a system for the limits of their product, and complete their blueprints. Using safe and appropriate recycled materials, students can construct their model, and then analyze their own success, as well as the benefits and practicality of their seismograph. Have students present their work to the class in the form of an informative commercial.

The earthquakes occurring in New Madrid, Missouri, in 1811 and 1812, San Francisco, California, in 1906, and Prince William Sound, Alaska, 1964, three major natural disasters in United States history, cost millions of dollars in property damage, and countless lives lost. The first earthquake ever recorded occurred in China in 1177 B.C. Europeans began describing their earthquakes in detailed writings in the 1500s. Although earthquakes are mentioned in written records as early as 580 B.C., these narrative reports were subject to exaggeration and bias. In more modern times, cameras, television, and computers have increased the quantitative observations and record-keeping abilities of scientists.

With the advancements of science and technology, how do earth scientists measure earthquakes? Using highly technical instruments, they measure direction, pressure, stress levels, energy build up and release, and movement. They are able to closely monitor earthquake data. One of their most valuable instruments is the seismograph.

Research the history of seismographs from early Chinese cultures to the present day technological design. Identify problems past scientist have confronted when attempting to measure earthquake location and intensity. Design a simple seismograph that will track a simulated earthquake, complete a set of blueprints to submit for approval to your teacher, identify and plan for the limits of your system-size, cost, availability, and skills. Using basic materials, build a seismograph model, evaluate and analyze the model's design for its success, benefits, and practicality. Then write and "produce" a 3-5 minute informative commercial for your home seismograph.

2 class periods for research, 1 class period to design a blueprint and materials, 2 class periods to construct and test the seismograph models, and then write the commercial, 1 class period for presentations, class analysis and discussion

Possible Resources:

Summary Notes of Research Information:
Notes on history of seismographs:

Notes on problems past scientists have confronted while attempting to measure earthquakes:

Notes on seismograph design and construction:

Design a simple seismograph that will track a simulated earthquake. Consider the size of your model, cost and availability of the materials, as well as your skills in construction. Submit these blueprints to your teacher for approval before you start building your model seismograph.

Identify the limits of your system. Consider size, cost, availability of materials, and your personal construction skills, to name a few.
Limit of SystemPossible Considerations or Solutions

Build your seismograph.

Use a consistent shaking method to test your model for its ability to record a variety of shaking intensities and time spans. Analyze and evaluate your model's success, benefits, and practicality.
Success of the model:
low intensity shaking

medium intensity shaking

high intensity shaking

short term shaking ____seconds

medium term shaking ____seconds

long term shaking ____seconds

Benefits of the model:
Shaking intensity

Shaking time

Practicality of the model:
Cost affectivity

Ease of construction

Ease of use

Ease of data analysis

Make any modifications to your seismograph, and then test the success and limits again, as needed.

Prepare a 3-5 minute creative, informative commercial for your home seismograph. Be sure to explain how it works, how to read the magnitude data, the constraints of your model, its cost, energy efficiency, and effectiveness as an earthquake measuring tool. Briefly discuss any problems you encountered in the development of your seismograph and how you solved these difficulties. Review the rubric listed below to be sure you have information from each assessment category.

Presentation Hints:

  • You may want to design a display board that shows your seismograph system. Use color effectively, label each part, and print clearly.
  • Use a creative persona in your commercial. Dress as a scientist, rescue worker, disaster victim, or other related character. Use an expressive voice to catch your audience's attention.
  • You may want to use music or a catchy song to help your audience remember your product.
  • "Sell" your seismograph. Demonstrate your product. Talk about the advantages of your device.
  • You may want to "interview experts" or present "testimonials by seismograph experts."
  • Maintain good eye contact by looking around the room at your audience. Know your product well enough that you won't need to read note cards.


Click here for a rubric to help you score this project. (81.0K)

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