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South America and Africa Puzzle

Published on


See how well South America and Africa fit together! I wonder why that is.....

Do you think that the two continents were once next to each other?


K-12 Earthquake Activity Teaching Modules

A Joint Project of the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) and the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC)

In the spring of 2011, NEES at the University of California Santa Barbara (NEES@UCSB) embarked on a project to develop a comprehensive set of teaching modules for K-12 students that would cover the basics of plate tectonics and earthquake dynamics. The idea for the project grew from the success of the “Make Your Own Earthquake” outreach activity developed by NEES@UCSB, which recently has included the use of the Quake Catcher Network MEMS accelerometer.

The UCSB site received a supplemental grant for Education, Outreach, and Training from NEES that provided funds for an undergraduate student to work on this project. Two NEES REU interns and a SCEC intern were also recruited, for a total of four students working cooperatively on the project over the summer of 2011. NEES@UCSB personnel served as mentors to the students and a Santa Barbara GATE science teacher was hired, through the NEES EOT grant, as a consultant to review the work. The students were asked to incorporate, as appropriate, the use of the QCN accelerometer and real earthquake data in the teaching modules. They were also asked to do a comprehensive survey of earthquake-related teaching materials currently available and to incorporate, with proper references, any of these materials into the new modules.

Over the course of the summer of 2011, the students met weekly with their mentor and the science teacher. In August, a group of local 4th – 6th grade students came to the UCSB campus and tested several of the earthquake activities. The summer interns presented their work at the NEES REU Young Researchers Symposium at UCSB in August and at the annual SCEC meeting in Palm Springs in September.

The 12 earthquake activity modules are summarized below:


Jamison Steidl, Ph.D., Principal Investigator, NEES@UCSB
Sandra Seale, Ph.D., Project Scientist and Outreach Coordinator, NEES@UCSB
Carrie Garner, M.A., Gifted and Talented Education Teacher and Coordinator, Hope School District

Summer Undergraduate Interns:

Sean Allen, Civil Engineering, University of Nevada, Reno
Heidi Pence, Civil Engineering, University of Michigan
Joseph Trudeau, Geology, University of Wisconsin
Hanna Vincent, Mechanical Engineering and Materials, MIT

Earthquake Activity Modules:

K – 3rd Grade: Plate Tectonic Puzzle, Hanna Vincent

[Be sure to click the "Docs and Attachments" tab to view and download attachments for this lesson such as handouts and worksheets.]

Earthquake Engineering Component

Learning Objectives and Standards

Links to the National Science Standards and to individual State Science Standards are available by using this link:

National Science Standards: K-4

Content Standard A: Science as Inquiry

  • Ask a question about objects, organisms and events in the environment
    • Use reliable sources and information from their own observations
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation
    • Check explanations against the observations of others
  • Communicated investigations and explanations
    • May be spoken, drawn or written
  • Understanding about scientific inquiry

Content Standard B: Physical Science

  • Position and motion of objects
    • Position can be described by locating it relative to another object

Content Standard D: Earth and Space Science

  • Properties of Earth materials
    • Earth materials are solid rocks and soils (and water and gas)
    • Fossils provide evidence about the plants and animals that lived long ago
  • Changes in the Earth and Sky
    • The surface of the earth changes, due slow and fast processes. (erosion vs earthquake)

Content Standard E: Science and Technology

  • Identify a simple problem
  • Propose a solution
  • Implementing proposed solutions
  • Evaluate a product or design
  • Communicate a problem, design, and solution
  • Understanding about science and technology
  • Abilities to distinguish between natural objects and objects made by humans

Content  Standard G: History and Nature of Science

  • Science as a human endeavor
    • An ongoing and never ending process

California Science Standards


Standard Set 4: Investigation and Experimentation

  1. Describe the properties of common objects

e. Communicate observations orally and through drawings

First Grade

Standard Set 4: Investigation and Experimentation

  1. Draw pictures that portray some features of the thing being described
  2. Record observations and data with pictures, numbers, or written statements
  3. Record observations or a bar graph
  4. Describe the relative position of objects by using two references
  5. Make new observations when discrepancies exist between two descriptions of the same object or phenomenon

Second Grade

Standard Set 1: Physical Sciences

  1. The motion of objects can be observed and measured. The position of an object can be described by locating it in relation to another object or to the background.
  2. An objects motion can be described by recording the change in position of the object over time
  1. Objects fall to the ground (gravity) unless something holds them up

Standard Set 4: Investigation and Experimentation

  1. Make predictions based on observed patterns and not random guessing
  1. Write or draw description of a sequence of steps, events, and observations

g. Follow oral instructions for a scientific investigation

Third Grade

Standard Set 5: Investigation and Experimentation

  1. Differentiate evidence from opinion and know that scientists do not rely on claims or conclusions unless they are backed by observations that can be confirmed

Material List

Materials Needed:

  1. Printout of attached continent outlines. One per student.
  2. Crayons, colored pencils, or markers.
  3. Scissors. One per several students


1. Color each continent a different color.

2. Cut out the continents.

3. Try to match them up like puzzle pieces.



Students should be able to see how well the two continents fit together and see how this inspired scientists to develop the theory of continental drift. It took millions of years for the super-continent Pangaea to break up. Each continent moves only centimeters a year, so we hardly notice the difference!

Links and Resources

Teacher's Resources:


  1. Continent: A main landmass. They are: North America, South America, Africa, Australia, Europe, Asia and Antarctica. Sometimes Asia and Europe are considered one continent, as they are technically one landmass, and it is called Eurasia.
  2. Pangaea: The super-continent that existed around 250 million years ago. Since then, the present-day continents have broken apart and slowly moved to their current position.

Pre-Activity Notes:

To lengthen the activity, have students trace and cut out their own continents from an atlas or map. If you have access to the internet, use Google Maps on satellite mode to see extra detail. You will note that the shallower region of southeast South America looks like it could fit between Africa and Madagascar.

Background Science:

The surface of the earth is composed of many pieces called tectonic plates that are constantly in motion. South America and Africa are on separate tectonic plates that have been moving away from each other for millions of years. Early scientists looked at the way the two continents seemed to fit with each other and their hypothesis developed into our current tectonic plate theory. Students may be interested to know that fossils give us further proof that these continents used to be next to each other (identical fossils can be found on separate continents).


Johnson, C. W. (2011) &ldquo;Tectonic Plates, Continental Drift and the Symmetry of the Continents."Earth/matriX Science in Ancient Artwork." <> (Aug. 2011)

SMART Exchange. (2009) "South America - outline." <> (Aug. 2011)

Zonu. (2011) "Africa outline map" <> (Aug 2011).

Learning modules in this series:




Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Sandra Seale; Hanna Vincent; NEES EOT (2011), "South America and Africa Puzzle,"

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