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What a Blast!

Using Coal Mine Blasts to Determine wave propagation speeds in a localized region

A PEPP project developed during the 2001 Summer Workshop at Indiana University- Bloomington

Submitted by: Mr. Mike Kelley, Evansville Harrison High School

Overview: This is a vertically integrated, multiple school project incorporating new technologies and Indiana state science standards into a high-interest plan with multiple avenues for student success. Students from Harrison High School in Evansville, Indiana will be cooperating with students from New Harmony High School and Perry Central Jr/Sr High School in an attempt to determine the speed of seismic waves through the Earth’s crust in southern Indiana. New technologies to be introduced to the students include seismometers, webconferencing, and video production. This project will be undertaken with emphasis on WOW (Working On the Work) design standards proposed by Philip Schlechty and the Center for Leadership in Educational Reform.

Lesson Procedures:

  1. Teachers and students will contact local coal mines to find out the exact time and place of a major blasting operation.
  2. Teachers and students will monitor the seismometers at each location to observe the seismic waves as they pass their particular monitoring station.
  3. Using Vision Athena technology or other videoconferencing technology, students will consult with each other and field experts about the waves on the seismograms.
  4. Junior High students will use an algebraic equation to determine the speed of the waves.
  5. High School physics students will plot the three sets of data and use the slope of a best-fit line to determine the speed of the waves.
  6. Lab reports will be written and submitted by each team working on the project.
  7. Evaluation of the written report will consist of four stages: a.) informal evaluation and feedback by other student groups, using e-mail; b.) self-evaluation by students, according to a rubric handed out in advance; c.) Formal evaluation by teacher, according to the same rubric; and d.) evaluation by editors, referees, etc., when submitted for publication.



Indiana State Standards Correlation:

8th grade science:

      1. Recognize and describe that if more than one variable changes at the same time in an experiment, the outcome of the experiment may not be attributable to any one of the variables.
      2. Explain why accurate record keeping, openness, and replication are essential for maintaining an investigator’s credibility with other scientists and society.
      1. Explain that humans help shape the future by generating knowledge, developing new technologies, and communicating ideas to others.
      1. Estimate distances and travel times from maps and the actual size of objects from scale drawings.
      2. Determine in what unit, such as seconds, meters, grams, etc., an answer should be expressed based on the units of the inputs to the calculation.
      3. Use proportional reasoning to solve problems.
      4. Use technological devices, such as calculators or computers, to perform calculations.
      1. Participate in group discussions on scientific topics by restating or summarizing accurately what others have said, asking for clarification or elaboration, and expressing alternate positions.
      2. Use tables, charts, and graphs in making arguments and claims in, for example, oral and written presentations about lab or field work.
      3. Explain why arguments are invalid if based on very small samples of data, biased sample, or samples for which there was no control sample.
      1. Explain that earthquakes often occur along the boundaries between colliding plates, and molten rock from below creates pressure that is released by volcanic eruptions, helping to build up mountains. Understand that under the ocean basins, molten rock may well up between separating plates to create new ocean floor. Further understand that volcanic activity along the ocean floor may form undersea mountains, which can thrust above the ocean’s surface to become islands.
      1. Explain that energy cannot be created or destroyed but only changed fro one form into another.
      2. Identify different forms of energy that occur in nature.
      1. Illustrate how graphs can show a variety of possible relationships between two variables.
      1. Explain how estimates can be based on data from similar conditions in the past or on the assumption that all possibilities are known.
      1. Use technology to assist in graphing and with simulations that compute and display results of changing factors in models.

Earth and Space Science I:

ES.1.23 Explain motions, transformations, and locations of materials in the Earth’s lithosphere and interior. For example, describe the movement of the plates that make up the Earth and the resulting formation of earthquakes, volcanoes, trenches, and mountains.

Physics I:

P.1.4 Employ correct units in describing physical quantities.

P.1.5 Use appropriate scalar and vector quantities to solve kinematics and dynamics problems.

P.1.6 Describe and measure motion in terms of position, time, and the derived quantities of velocity and acceleration.

P.1.12 Use the law of conservation of energy to predict the outcome of an energy transformation.

P.1.22 Describe waves in terms of their fundamental characteristics.

P.1.23 Use the principle of superposition to describe the interference effects arising from propagation of several waves through the same medium.

P.1.24 Use the concepts of reflection, refraction, polarization and transmission to predict the motion of waves moving through space and matter.

P.1.25 Use the concept of wave motion to predict conceptually and quantitatively the various properties of an optical system.


This lesson could be tied to many other standards as well, including mathematics and language arts.

Additional notes and information:

Student work will be submitted for publication in various journals, including the PEPP journal, The Science Teacher, the Physics Teacher, and the HASTI newsletter. This lesson was designed to fit the ten design standards of the WOW (Working On the Work) philosophy. Helpful information and additional links and exercises may be found on the Indiana University PEPP website.


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