6th grade Earth Science collaboration: A Pop-Up Book Exploring Plate Tectonics

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Sixth grade scientists at Hall Middle School explored paper engineering and pop-up techniques to create a pop-up book illustrating the movement and concept of plate tectonics.
Two years ago, Mentor Artist Katy Bernheim collaborated with science teacher Ted Stoeckley to design a way to teach students about plate tectonics using paper engineering and pop-up techniques.  They decided to focus on the layers of the earth, subduction, strike/slip faults, and the movement of Pangaea, with an optional sea floor spreading.  After much trial and error, Katy was able to develop a model that the students would work from.
Because of time constraints and the challenges of accurately illustrating the movement of the earth’s plates, they designed the project as a model for the students to work towards, with step-by-step instructions.
Students began with paper exploration, playing with different first- and second-generation pop-up techniques.  They learned folding and creasing, and clarified how to use a ruler as a measuring devise as well as a straight edge.  They made stair steps, and frogs, and thrones, and repeating patterns out of brightly colored card stock.  The kids experimented, adding cuts and folds, and even adding their pop-ups together to make more elaborate patterns and structures.
The pages in the books began as legal-sized file folders cut in half.  Students started with the subduction of the South American Plate by the Nasca Plate.  First, they cut a long rectangular first-generation pop-up, and added a second-generation pop-up on one end.  This would be the foundation for the plates to ride on.  Next they cut strips to extend the pop-up foundation.  Finally, they cut out photocopies of the South American Plate and the Nasca Plate.  Students placed and glued the Nasca Plate first, then folded in (or un-popped) the page to position the South American Plate.  Because of the difference in height and length of the two strips, when the book is opened, it looks as if the smaller Nasca Plate is moving under the South American Plate (to create the Andes Mountains!).  There were lots of oohs and ahhhs as the students opened and closed their pages.  It was challenging for many kids, due to the precise nature of the instruction, with measuring and cutting along the lines, but when they got it, they were ecstatic.
Next, the class tackled the break up and movement of one large continent, Pangaea, into several of the continents we know today.  The students had a photocopy of South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica and the Indian Subcontinent that included illustrations of the fossil record that had helped prove the theory of plate tectonics.  They cut out each continent, and arranged them to form the original super continent, like putting together a puzzle.  Next they cut out and folded a first-generation strip in a new page of the book.  They glued South America to the popped-up rectangle, folded it in, and positioned Africa right next to the “un-popped” South America.  When students opened their books, South American moved left, away from Africa.  Next they prepped three supporting strips for the remaining continents.  Placing these continents in their completed-puzzle format next to Africa, they folded, positioned and glued the strips so that each continent could be pulled with a pull tab away from Africa, in the direction the continents ultimately landed.
On the facing page, students used California to illustrate a strike/slip fault.  They cut out the state, and cut off the section of California that is part of the Pacific Plate, along the San Andreas Fault.  They cut out bendable legs for each “plate,” attached pull tabs, and made sure the legs were glued in such a way as to move the sections in the correct direction: the Pacific Plate slice moving northwest, i.e. to the upper left of the page, and the North American Plate section moving southeast, or to the lower right.
Finally, students created a flip tab to show the layers of the earth.  They cut out a circle filled with concentric circles illustrating the earth’s layers.  They folded this in half, and glued one half to a third page in the book.  Next they cut out a round drawing of the earth, added a “fold” tab, folded that all in half, and glued it half of it to the layers, and half to the book page, making a page-within-the-page.
For students who finished early, Katy offered a model of sea floor spreading for them to experiment with for an extra page in their books.
The students added text to explain the theory of Plate Tectonics to their pop-up illustrations (from Science class and as homework).  They glued the pages back-to-back, and created a cover.  The kids put a huge amount of work into their books.  In the end they had a product they were proud of, and they had learned and internalized the concepts of Plate Tectonics more deeply than had they only read about it.  In practicing the paper engineering techniques, they now have skills to take to other art, science, or writing projects in the future.

Showing 5 comments
  • Jeanette Compton

    Could you please send directions or a template?
    Looks awesome!

  • Helena Easter

    This is awesome!! Please share how you did the popup for plate tectonics!!

  • Anjana Kapoor

    Loved your project of the pop up plate tectonics. Could you please share the template or the directions.

  • Faith Sanders

    I would love to get to have the directions on how you did it. I’m a student at the Academy of Innovation in Vicksburg, Ms. We have a project due coming up about what you just did in the project. And I would love your help on how to do it. Cheers!
    p.s. The project is due in a few days.

    • youthinarts

      Hi–glad you like the project. This was a project one of our contracting Mentor Artists Katy Bernheim did a while back now and she brought all the printouts to cut from with her–we do not have them. However you can see examples in the photos and her descriptions are pretty detailed…I think you could find similar resources online and follow Katy’s description to replicate the project. Thanks for your interest!

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