Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Understanding the Richter Magnitude Scale

Montessori materials are beautifully made, hands on, and versatile. When the 8.2 magnitude earthquake happened in Chile a few weeks ago, we used the Biome Map of the World (made by Waseca) and the Wooden Hierarchical Material (made by Nienhuis) to help us explain what had happened. The Biome Map of the World shows the mountain ranges in South America. We reviewed plate tectonics and the different types of mountains (which we have been weaving on our tapestry). After explaining what an earthquake is and how pressure builds up in the earth's crust, we explained the Richter Magnitude Scale. This scale is logarithmic, meaning that a 2 is ten times stronger than a 1, a 3 is ten times stronger than a 2 (and 100 times stronger than a 1), etc. The pH scale is logarithmic as well, so it is important that students understand this concept.

We used the Wooden Hierarchical Material, which is a beautiful material that shows from 1 to 1,000,000 -- TO SCALE -- in an easy to understand way. It also uses the place value color coding for Montessori work. Green is the units place. Blue is the tens place. Red is the hundreds place.

Several students came to our classroom mid-year, and so this was an important lesson for them to see as well. I laid out the 1 piece, to represent the 1 on the Richter Magnitude Scale. I laid out the 10 piece to represent the 2. The 100 piece represented the 3. The 1,000 piece represented the 4. The 10,000 piece represented the 5. The 100,000 piece represented the 6. The 1,000,000 piece represented a 7 on the Richter scale. I explained to students that an earthquake with a magnitude of 8 would be TEN of the million cube pieces laid side by side! This really helped students to have a concept of the damaging force of this quake. It was a very powerful discussion. We did also tell them about building codes (our architect visit earlier this year was helpful in explaining this) and about the early warning signs, seismographs, and extensive coastline evacuations which saved so many lives.

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