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Grades 3-5
In this lesson, students will compare the impact of different types of disasters on the lives of the people affected by them. This assignment will require students to create a model using their own art supplies for homework. It is best done over two or more days. Students will use the Living Landscapes exhibit in Xpedition Hall for this lesson.
Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, science
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 15: "How physical systems affect human systems"
Three hours

Materials Required:
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Various art supplies, including a shoe box for each student
Students will
  • define words associated with disasters;
  • demonstrate an understanding of the impact different types of disasters might have on their environment;
  • describe in writing what they have learned about the specific disasters they have studied;
  • create and analyze their own disaster plans; and
  • analyze their character traits, to see which characteristics they may share with certain natural disasters.
Geographic Skills:
Asking Geographic Questions
Acquiring Geographic Information
Answering Geographic Questions
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Tell the class that you are going to break the class into disaster teams. The catch is that they are going to be the disasters. Divide the class into five groups, each representing one kind of natural disaster:
  • Earthquakes
  • Volcanoes
  • Tsunamis
  • Mudslides
  • Forest fires
Ask each team to describe what its effect(s) would be, if it were to take over the classroom. Make sure the team describes how the damage took place, instead of focusing on the aftermath. For example, an earthquake might start out slow, and then continue to rumble for a set amount of time. Perhaps there are aftershocks as well, making the damage even worse.
Link the classroom computer(s) to Xpedition Hall's Living Landscapes , and have students read the text (or you can read the text aloud to them). Have all students read the text for each disaster, not just the one for their team. When each student has completed the Xpedition, have them send a postcard to the teacher describing which type of disaster seems to have had the greatest impact.

A sample might read: I would hate to have lived in Hawaii in 1946, when a huge tsunami hit Hilo! It is hard to believe that an underwater earthquake thousands of miles away could have killed more than 150 people. With other disasters, it seems like you have a little more warning. Even if people in my family survived, the village would have needed to be totally rebuilt.

Remind students that there are certain things they can do to protect themselves in the event of a disaster. While it is not possible to avoid all danger, many families have a disaster plan. Have students visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency's FEMA for Kids site for ideas about how to prepare for the unexpected.
Suggested Student Assessment:
No matter which team they were with, ask students to use their shoe boxes to create a diorama of a town that has been devastated by the disaster of their choice. Ask them to make sure their models match the type of disaster represented. Each student should also write a one-paragraph description of the town, and what impact the disaster had on it. The diorama should focus on the specific disaster, such as water damage due to a tsunami or crumbling buildings due to an earthquake.
Extending the Lesson:
Ask students if there are any ways they are like the disaster they chose above. Do they tend to surprise people, like a tsunami, or do they finish something and then want to go back to make another change, like the aftershock of an earthquake? Have the students take this quiz , which is based more on fun than science or psychology.

Do students feel they were on the right team? How many of each were in the class? Create a bar graph to chart the results.

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