Hands-on Activity: Mini-Landslide
Educational Standards :
Pre-Req Knowledge (Return to Contents)
A basic understanding of gravity and friction is critical to understanding landslides. A familiarity with geological events (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis) is helpful to understanding landslide causes and effects.
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
After this activity, students should be able to:
Materials List (Return to Contents)
Each group needs:
To share with the entire class:
Note: Most of the following materials can be reused, some for the Survive That Tsunami activity in Lesson 6 of the Natural Disasters unit.
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
Not all hills and mountains are made of the same materials. There are different types of rock, sand and soil found everywhere. Have you played with sand before? How about modeling clay? If you made a castle out of both of these materials, which one would be more likely to fall down? (Answer: The one made from sand.) One hillside made of a certain material (or materials) may be more stable than another of the same size and shape. Also, when you add water to different materials, it is hard to predict what might happen. The material something is made of is important to how well it holds up or how strong it is. Landslides are the result of gravity and friction acting on these different types of earth materials (rock, soil, sand, gravel, etc.). The best thing that an engineer can do is to develop a model of the different materials and see what happens in a landslide.
To give you an idea of how important building a model can be to predicting a landslide, let's use the example of a city in South America near the Andes Mountains that was in the path of a landslide in 1999 (see Figure 1). This city was buried in almost 1.8 million tons (1.6 million metric tons) of mud, rock, sand and other debris from the landslide. Full-size, 18-wheeled dump trucks carry about 80,000 pounds (40 tons or 36 metric tons). It would take 45,000 of these trucks to carry this much stuff away. That's a lot! Building a model of possible landslide areas helps engineers and scientists predict just how much earth material might cover a city.
Today, we are going to have some fun and learn more about landslides by creating our own mini-landslides. We are going to build mini-houses, too, and see if they get wiped out by the landslides. And then, since not all hills and mountains are made of the same materials, we are going to test a couple of different situations. Scientists and engineers really do these same types of experiments to understand how real-life landslides work. So, let's give it a try.
Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)
Procedure (Return to Contents)
Before the Activity
With the Students
Attachments (Return to Contents)
Safety Issues (Return to Contents)
Troubleshooting Tips (Return to Contents)
The first run on the chute when it is dry will have different results than all subsequent runs when the chute is wet. So, for uniformity, perform one run with wet material before the trials.
It is also best if the three materials are damp when performing the trials. Like the chute, the materials react differently when wet. Damp materials produce greater uniformity in spreading.
Assessment (Return to Contents)
Discussion Questions: Solicit, integrate and summarize student responses.
Activity Embedded Assessment
Predictions: Ask students to predict whether each model house will be damaged or moved during each type of trial in the activity, and record their predictions on their worksheets.
Worksheet: Have students record on their worksheets their observations about which landslide scenario caused the most damage and compare these to their peers. How did the steepness of the chute make a difference in the damage of the landslides? How did the addition of water make a difference in the severity of the landslide damage? Which material caused the worst landslides? Which landslide scenario caused the most damage? How can model help us understand real landslides? How would students apply what they've learned to real-world landslide situations? Have student share their observations with the class. Review students' worksheets to gauge their mastery of the subject.
Re-Design Practice: Engineers use small-scale models like our mini-landslide model to experiment with different situations and designs without having to create full-size landslides. With this in mind, on their worksheets, have students list any design or fabrication changes they would make to their model houses. Also have them consider what would be safer locations for house placement. Discuss as a class.
Activity Extensions (Return to Contents)
Have students re-design and place their own new buildings to survive a landslide. Give them some limited supplies and a building size constraint, perhaps about one cubic inch (2.5 cm2).
Each landslide material made a different pattern after it came down the chute. Have the students investigate more about the patterns made by the different materials. Then, have them create an informational flyer for an imaginary town that could be affected by a landslide from one of those materials.
Engineers often use modeling to simulate natural disasters. They create different types of models for different purposes, such as mathematical models, computer models and prototype models. Have students investigate when and why different types of models are used.
Have students work in groups of three or four to design, build and test strong mountains that can support houses through a rainstorm. Details are as follows:
References (Return to Contents)
Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Accessed February 15, 2006. (Source of some vocabulary definitions, with some adaptation)
Lesson 5 – Landslides. Environmental Geology, Geology Education, Mansfield University, Mansfield, PA. Accessed February 15, 2006. http://www.geologyeducation.com/blackboard/lan/lanlessonsummer.html
Landslide Simulation. Environmental Geology, Geology Education, Mansfield University, Mansfield, PA. Accessed February 15, 2006. (Excellent video animation provides a realistic view of how landslide processes work and the damage that can be done by them; large, 2 MB file) http://www.geologyeducation.com/blackboard/lan/landsld.gif
ContributorsTimothy S. Nicklas, Geoffrey Hill, Emily Gill, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Denise W. Carlson
Copyright© 2006 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Acknowledgements (Return to Contents)
The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation (GK-12 grant no. 0338326). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.