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Grade 4 Science: Landslide Activity

Grade 4 Science: Landslide Activity | Falls Brook Centre |

This activity was generously shared by the Quartermain Earth Science Centre.
New Brunswick curriculum outcomes: 301-6, 205-5, 205-1, 207-2

Disaster strikes! And when it does, are you prepared?

The lesson starts with an introduction to the concept of erosion as a function of landslides, where erosion by wind, water etc. can cause the release of rock, soil and other debris down a slope. Even though landslides seem like a type of natural disaster that won’t impact New Brunswick, they can be related to the slopes and hills that many communities are built on or around.

But it’s just mud! How bad can a landslide be?

Landslides are hard to conceptualize, especially for kids. Showing a few videos on how destructive they are can be a helpful reminder. We like Spectacular Rockslide in Switzerland on YouTube, and Epic mudslide caught on camera- Global News. (Be prepared to watch all videos in advance as many online are not school-age appropriate) 

For each group you will need the following supplies:

  • 1 paint tray
  • 1 rubber shelf liner
  • 1 5×5 Lego plate (I purchased a 10×10 plate and cut it into 4)
  • A bag of Lego pieces (I collect them in a baggie and make sure groups have roughly the same amount)
  • 1 bag of glass beads and pebbles
  • Fortification supplies: Masking or scotch tape, Popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, cheesecloth, Playdoh and felt cloth.

This activity works well in groups of 3-5. The first part will require a flat Lego base, Legos, placemat, paint roller tray and marbles or pebbles. The Legos can be stuck onto the base at random to become the “slope face”. This can be done beforehand to save time. Students can then be given a bag of Lego to act as architects and engineers, building and planning a town to lay out on their placemat that will rest at the bottom of their Lego slope face, which is propped up on the paint roller tray.

Now, give Legos to a 4th grader, and all the rules go out the window! It’s very easy for them to get caught up making one very large, elaborate structure. Giving the students a few guidelines or building requirements can help prevent this. For example, you can provide them with a list of structures that they must have in their town (school, hospital, house, mall, etc.). Or put a 5-piece restriction on each building. 

Once the town is set up on the placemat, pour the marbles or pebbles down the slope face and destroy the town! This shows the students the compromised areas of their town and where they need to focus their efforts to build reinforcements. 

Students will then be given a budget to buy materials to fortify their town against the next landslide. Materials for this part include Popsicle sticks, cheesecloth, felt, tape, and play-doh. Each item is priced, and can all be “purchased” by the groups within their given budget. 

A fair and easy way to do this would be by giving the students a healthy budget of $10,000, and pricing the materials like so:

Play-doh (1 tin per group)5,000
Popsicle stick2,000

The students work together with their group to decide what materials to buy and how to best implement them to protect their towns. Once they’ve laid it all out, another landslide will hit! Who succeeded in stopping their buildings from toppling?

Discuss how different factors could affect the outcome. For example, did the shape of the buildings themselves matter? How about placement or layout? How effective were the protective materials? Did some materials work better than others? Was it hard to work together? Would this be true of real towns and communities? 

Have you tried this activity? Let us know how it went in the comments below!

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