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Food Fault Lines (s'mores and more)

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Explore what happens at fault lines using food found in your kitchen.

Questions for your students:
Can you think of foods that are easy to break apart and some that are difficult to break apart? What makes it easy or hard to break? Have you ever eaten something that was hard to eat because it kept crumbling?


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 – 1st Grade: Graham Cracker Fault Lines, 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:

Science Standards: K-4

Content Standard A: Science as Inquiry

  • Ask a question about objects, organisms and events in the environment
  1. 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
  1. Check explanations against … the observations of others
  • Communicated investigations and explanations
  1. May be spoken, drawn or written
  • Understanding about scientific inquiry

Content Standard B: Physical Science

  • Properties of objects and materials
  1. Objects have many observable properties that can be measured
  • Position and motion of objects
  1. Position can be described by locating it relative to another object
  2. Position and motion of objects can be changed by pushing or pulling

Content Standard D: Earth and Space Science

  • Properties of Earth materials
  1. Earth materials are solid rocks and soils (and water and gas)
  • Changes in the Earth and Sky
  1. 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 F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

  • Personal Health (don’t eat the materials!)

Content Standard G: History and Nature of Science

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


California Science Standards


Standard Set 1: Physical Science

  1. Objects can be described in terms of materials they are made of and their physical properties.

Standard Set 4: Investigation and Experimentation

  1. Observe common objects by using the five sense
  2. Describe the properties of common objects
  3. Describe the relative position of objects using one reference
  4. Compare and sort common objects by one physical attribute
  5. Communicate observations orally and through drawings

First Grade

Standard set 1: Physical Science

  1. Materials come in different forms (states), including solids, liquids and gases. (Solids are rigid and occupy a specific volume)

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 on a bar graph
  4. Describe the relative position of objects by using two references (above, next to)
  5. Make new observations when discrepancies exist between two descriptions of the same object or phenomenon

Second Grade

Standard Set 3: Earth Sciences

  1. Students know that smaller rocks come from breakage and weathering of larger rocks.

Standard Set 4: Investigation and Experimentation

  1. Make predictions based on observed patterns and not random guessing
    1. Compare and sort common objects according to two or more physical attributes
    2. Write or draw descriptions of a sequence of steps, events and observations
    3. Construct bar graphs to record data, using appropriately labeled axes
    4. Use magnifiers or microscopes to observe and draw descriptions of small objects or small features of objects
    5. Follow oral instructions for a scientific investigation

Third Grade

Standard Set 5: Investigation and Experimentation

  1. Repeat observations to improve accuracy and know that the results of similar scientific investigations seldom turn out exactly the same because of differences in the things being investigated, methods being used, or uncertainty in the observation
  2. 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
  3. Use numerical data in describing and comparing objects, events, and measurements
  4. Predict the outcome of a simple investigation and compare the result with the prediction
  5. Collect data in an investigation and analyze those data to develop a logical conclusion

Material List

Materials Needed:

  1. Graham Crackers. One box, one cracker per student.
  2. Hersey’s Bars. One bar per four students.
  3. Large marshmallows. One bag, 2 per student.




  1. Sketch each food item in its original form, color if desired.
  2. Write notes on each food item’s physical properties
  3. Break the graham crackers and Hersey’s bars at the “perforated” edges.
  4. Try breaking the marshmallow and then squish it.
  5. Draw what each food items look like after being broken or squished.
  6. Once broken, see if the cracker or chocolate pieces will fit back together. Gently grind the pieces together and see what kind of crumbs fall off.
  7. Add sketches of the crumbs to your drawing. Try to draw to scale.


Students should notice that the “hard” foods break along weak edges and that the uneven edges crumble when pushed against each other, much like rock does at fault lines. They should also see that “soft” marshmallows don’t snap apart.


Why do the crackers all break along the same line? Can you think of anything else that always breaks in the same place?


Nothing is perfect, so the crackers did not break on a perfectly straight line.

Links and Resources


  1. Tectonic plates: Landmass that covers the Earth in pieces (the surface of the Earth has “cracks” in it).
  2. Fault line: A break in the Earth where stresses have caused the material to move in different directions.

Material Notes:

  1. The amount of each food given to students to experiment with is up to you, depending on how much time is available and how confident you are that your students won’t eat everything. :D
  2. After some extremely scientific research, which involved buying and consuming large amounts of graham crackers (anything in the name of science!), I have found that they don’t make ‘em like they used to. The crackers I found had more “perforation lines,” and it was easier to break them by eating the crackers than it was to break them apart by hand. I suggest that you hold your own snack break to test the crackers in advance. If possible, get graham crackers with only a few sections, the kind normally used for s’mores.
  3. ***Always check each food item for allergens***

Activity Notes:

  1. Keep in mind that the goal is to break the pieces along the weaker “perforated” or thinner lines. Try to highlight the fact that breaking pieces along those lines is much easier than breaking it any other place.
  2. Think “A chain is only as strong as the weakest link”.

Background Science:

The tectonic plates that make up the crust of the Earth meet each other at fault lines. These plates are always in motion and are interacting with their neighboring plates. When two plates are pushing against each other, earthquakes are triggered when the rock suddenly slips. This activity will expose students to this physical interaction, and give them a beginner’s view on some simple tectonic activity occurring below California and around the world. The part of the activity dealing with crumbs is designed to allow students to begin exploring their own interactions with physical objects, as well as mimic the real-world interaction of plates. The marshmallows should mimic rock that is pushed by the tectonic plates into mountains. They “squish” when pushed, just like rock is pushed up into mountain ranges.

References: (2011). “Graham – cracker.” <> (Aug. 2011)

Learning modules in this series:




Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Sandra Seale; Hanna Vincent; NEES EOT (2011), "Food Fault Lines (s'mores and more),"

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