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NEES@UCSD/COSMOS High School Earthquake Engineering EOT Activities

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The California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) is a four-week, educational summer program for gifted and talented high school students. Science and engineering topics are presented via a variety of “clusters” located at four of the University of California campuses. The “When Disaster Strikes: Earthquake Engineering” cluster at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) has successfully employed experiential education methods in order to present structural engineering and geophysics topics. Lecture material on seismology and earthquake engineering has been integrated with activities, field trips, and group projects in order to enhance the students’ understanding of the material. The goals of the cluster are to present these topics at a high level, meet national math and science program standards for high school students, and to encourage the students to pursue math- and science-based majors at public, in-state universities. The implementation of hands-on components to learning has shown to be effective in both helping to convey the advanced topics presented, while also achieving the greater goals of the program with regard to higher education. The tools provided in this learning object represent curriculum used for COSMOS. The tools and documentation will continue to be updated as improvements are made. 


COSMOS is a residential math and science summer camp that provides an opportunity for motivated high school students to work alongside university researchers and faculty to explore topics that extend beyond the typical high school curriculum. The program encompasses four university campuses, each offering a variety of clusters in science and engineering that concentrate on hands-on activities in laboratory settings highlighting current university research[1]. The objective of the “When Disaster Strikes: Earthquake Engineering” cluster is to present basic concepts in the fields of geophysics and structural engineering. It employs hands-on and interactive activities, experimental investigations, relevant site visits, and research-based group projects, all of which are integrated with lectures. Often the laboratory or hands-on exercises involve the introduction to and use of computer programs such as Microsoft Excel for data analysis, SolidWorks or Google SketchUp for structural modeling, and Google Earth for geophysics activities. 

The format of the program consists of regular classes focused on presenting cluster material, seminars related to science communication which are taught by high school teacher fellows assigned to each cluster, scheduled opportunities for students from all clusters to integrate and learn about the research being conducted by their peers, laboratory time where cluster assistants are available to help students with their course material and projects, relevant field trips, time in the evenings for homework or outside research, and many social activities. 

This learning object presents a sample of some of the innovative instructional methods based on experiential learning and problem-based learning theory that have been implemented in the course. 

Learning Objectives and Standards

The educational goals of the cluster are to introduce students to the impact of seismic activity on our physical surroundings, to foster creative problem-solving techniques with an emphasis on working in teams, and to encourage students to pursue math- and science-intensive college majors at in-state institutions. The program outcomes for COSMOS correlate very closely to the engineering outcomes specified for accreditation of undergraduate engineering programs, such as the following: 

 An ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering. 

 An ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as being able to analyze and interpret data. 

 An ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs. 

 An ability to function in multi-disciplinary teams. 

 An ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems. 

 An understanding of professional and ethical responsibility. 

 An ability to communicate effectively with written, oral, and visual means. 

 The broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context. 

 A recognition of the need for and an ability to engage in life-long learning. 

 A knowledge of contemporary issues. 

 An ability to use modern engineering techniques, skills, and computing tools necessary for engineering practice. 

Material List

Documentation has been created for the instructors, providing a description of the activity, objectives, outcomes, required materials, setup instructions, instructions for facilitating activity, and discussion questions. These documents, as well as photographs and videos of the activities, are made available to promote broad dissemination and implementation of the activity-based curriculum. 

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Lelli Van Den Einde; Sam Lee; Andreas Stavridis (2012), "NEES@UCSD/COSMOS High School Earthquake Engineering EOT Activities,"

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