September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Did You Feel It? and the Quake-Catcher Network: Gather and Contribute Data About Earthquakes in Your Front Yard and Schoolyard

Posted: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Robert de Groot

It is 9:09 pm on Friday March 28, 2014 in Southern California and all of a sudden a magnitude (M) 5.1 earthquake strikes in the northwest corner of Orange County near the cities of La Habra and Fullerton. The Southern California Seismic Network swings into action collecting data about the event. The event is widely felt and many people put into practice what they learned during the Great California ShakeOut the statewide earthquake drill held every third Thursday of October – Drop, Cover, and Hold On.

You Feel It Event Page for the M 5.1 LaHabraEarthquake (courtesy: USGS)

You Feel It Event Page for the M 5.1 LaHabraEarthquake (courtesy: USGS)

After the shaking ends, everyone checks for injuries and damage. Then many submit data of what they felt during the earthquake on the United States Geological Survey’s Did You Feel It? website. This site leverages the abundant information available about earthquakes from the people who actually experience them. By taking advantage of the vast numbers of Internet users, the USGS can get a more complete description of what people experienced, the effects of the earthquake, and the extent of damage than was available in the past.

Within two hours after the March 28, 2014 magnitude 5.1 event there are over 30 aftershocks. The earthquake shakes all nine high schools of the Chaffey Joint Union High School District (CJUHSD), located 60 km east of Los Angeles.



However, something else is also shaking at the schools.

In 2013, CJUHSD Superintendent Mat Holton and Assistant Superintendent Tim Ward agreed to have seismometers from the Quake Catcher Network installed in all of their schools.

Quake Catcher Network Logo

Quake Catcher Network Logo

The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) is a collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing motion sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers. The QCN is a distributed computing network that links volunteer hosted computers to a real-time motion-sensing network.The volunteer computers monitor vibrational sensors called micro electro-mechanical systems, (MEMS), accelerometers and digitally transmit “triggers” to QCN’s servers whenever strong motions are observed.QCN is one of many scientific computing projects that runs on the world-renowned distributed computing platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC). QCN’s servers sift through these signals, and determine which ones represent earthquakes, and which ones represent cultural noise.QCN provides software so that individuals can join together to improve earthquake monitoring, earthquake awareness, and the science of earthquakes.

Earth science teacher Bernadette Vargas (CSTA member) from Etiwanda High School, having felt the earthquake herself, signs into her account on the QCN website and she discovers that five of the high schools in the CJUHSD generated records from the earthquake. The seismogram shown here is from Montclair High School. She creates a report for her colleagues, which shares basic information about the earthquake, which schools in the district detected the event, and how to interpret the data. She explains that the blue record shows movement on the z-axis (up/down), the yellow on the y-axis, and the green on the x-axis.

Montclair High School (CJUHSD) seismogram from the M 5.1 La Habra Earthquake (courtesy: QCN)

Montclair High School (CJUHSD) seismogram from the M 5.1 La Habra Earthquake (courtesy: QCN)

The result on the following Monday: a teachable moment like no other. Many of the students felt the earthquake but not all of them felt the same thing – why? In several earth science classrooms in the CJUHSD a lively discussion about the difference between earthquake magnitude and intensity ensued. Copies of Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country published by the Southern California Earthquake Center were distributed. Not only did the students review the Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety they also learned about the factors that influence what one feels during an earthquake.

The seismograms recorded by five of the CJUHSD high schools provided an opportunity for science educators to do other interpretive activities with students including a review of the behavior of seismic waves and how the locations earthquakes can be determined.

Vargas and her colleagues have been putting into practice strategies to implement NGSS in creative and innovative ways such as utilizing QCN data collected from events in their front yards and schoolyards.

An indispensable component of the QCN partnership between earthquake researchers and the CJUHSD is the support from the district’s information technology professionals. Director of Technical Support Marc Moya and his capable team assisted with the installation of the sensors and with troubleshooting software issues. Not only has Marc and his team embraced the importance of contributing data to better understanding earthquakes, they are also participating in a collaborative effort that focuses on improving student learning by providing opportunities to interact with authentic data.

California is Earthquake County and participation in the ShakeOut and other activities that promote preparedness and resilience are essential components of a K-12 education. Vargas, Moya, and others recognize that engaging students in real-time activities such as Did You Feel It and QCN complement and enhance these activities by providing students with opportunities to participate in authentic STEM-based learning experiences.

For more information about QCN visit the program’s website or contact Robert de Groot. 

Robert de Groot is Education Program Manager at the Southern California Earthquake Center, an NSF+USGS Center at the University of Southern California and a member of CSTA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.