Technology to prevent Earthquakes, Safe Cities for all

Author: Stavroula Skiada

The logo of our project

School: 8th Primary school of Nea Filadelfeia, Athens Greece
Participants: Students of 5th grade (10 to 11 years old)
Implementation dates: 1 February – 26 February 2021
Learning Scenario: https://tinyurl.com/4u4wkzmj

Abstract

This STE(A)M project was a collaborative activity between the 8th primary school of Nea Filadelfeia and the 2nd primary school of Nea Erythraia, Athens. The main idea of the project was the simulation of a seismograph using the BBC micro:bit controllers. The activity started in February 2021, was integrated into the cross-thematic national curriculum and implemented both online and in-class. It aimed to introduce students to basic skills of programming, computational and critical thinking, creativity and social, emotional intelligence. Additionally, through STEAM education students created links between the classroom training and the world around them and solved real-life problems. Furthermore, the use of advanced technologies in the classroom encouraged participation as it made learning fun and engaging process. 

In a few words

Can we turn our BBC micro:bit into a seismograph?”. That was the initiation question to motivate the students and develop their interest in the topic: “Tech to prevent earthquakes and Safe cities for all”. Notable earthquakes have affected Greece during recorded history due to the country’s location between the Eurasian and Aegean Sea Tectonic Plates. Since 1950 more than 990 people have been killed and 22 subsequent tsunamis have occurred.
Therefore, after collecting information and carrying out an investigation regarding the causes of an earthquake, students built their own seismograph by programming their BBC micro:bit (pocket-sized computer) to detect and react to earthquakes.

Using the micro:bit’s built-in accelerometer sensor, the students recorded the magnitude of an earthquake and according to its intensity, the micro:bit responded in various ways: lit up the micro:bit panel, created a plot graph as a graphical representation of the earthquake’s vibrations and sent a radio signal in order to trigger a visual and sound alarm which notifies both the general population and people with visual and hearing impairments.
Consequently, through this STEAM activity, students realized how digital technologies can be used to address environmental challenges (Technology for Good) and the importance of designing inclusive solutions by taking into account people’s disabilities like visual or hearing impairment (“Leave No One Behind” policy).

The BBC micro:bit as a seismograph

Background work

Students that were involved in the project, and the teacher taking on the role of a facilitator to provide the necessary scaffolding, looked into the causes of an earthquake and its potential environmental, economic and social impact. Through intriguing questions (inquiry based approach), using educational resources from their geography school textbook and searching the web, students acquired knowledge of the role of volcanoes and earthquakes in the changes of nature.
Learning product: https://padlet.com/sskiada/oqq3wj0kkhq6xnph

Additionally, during their Science lesson, the teacher introduced students to the key terms of acceleration, velocity and gravity and, as the notion of these terms were difficult for students of this age, the Science teacher used a car and a human toy figure to illustrate these physical quantities and their properties.
Learning product: https://www.mindmeister.com/1701467203?t=C2fni3GG70

Programming the BBC micro:bit

The coding part of our project was implemented in Microsoft MakeCode, a blocks/Java script code editor that supported the transformation path of turning the micro:bit controller into a seismograph.

Estimating the magnitude of an earthquake was the first step of the coding process. This is where the micro:bit measured the strength of an earthquake using the acceleration value (milli g-force) from all three directions while the students were shaking the controller (the micro:bit controller measures the acceleration using the Euclidean norm). The students concluded that the 2,000 mg is the maximum acceleration that the micro:bit can record and that the 1,023 mg is the strength of acceleration when it is lying flat on a surface with the screen pointing up (acceleration due to earth’s gravity).

As the constantly changing measurements of micro:bit can be confusing, students could use the option of converting these measurements to a plot graph. The graph line illustrates the changing value of the accelerometer in relation to time, something that makes it an easier concept to grasp.
The last part of the coding process was to design an inclusive solution for people with visual and hearing impairments. Using the micro:bit radio communication, if an earthquake occurred, a sound and a visual alarm would be triggered and sent remotely to a micro:bit owned by disabled people in a nearby city. Here is our video: https://player.vimeo.com/video/541645264

The art of designing model buildings

To underline the importance of “A” in STE(A)M education, the final part of our project consisted of designing and constructing a model building. During Art lesson, with their teacher as a facilitator, students designed a building, created its model using recycling materials, painted it and finally placed the controller on it.

Our model cardboard building

Using this model, the students simulated an earthquake and realized that a building can be destroyed according to its structural characteristics during an earthquake of large magnitude.
Learning product: The scheduled exhibition of the students’ model city and earthquake simulator to their schoolmates had to be postponed because of the pandemic.
https://player.vimeo.com/video/533247856

Outcomes

The engagement of the students in the “Technology to prevent earthquakes & Safe cities for all” activity contributed to the acquirement of useful skills to face different kinds of real-life problems, as well as to the development of critical thinking, communication and collaboration. In addition to this, the activity strengthened their awareness of the role of science and coding to help the future of mankind against natural disasters.  Finally, yet importantly, the students realized the need of designing inclusive solutions and implementing the “Leave No One Behind” policy for the most marginalized people as progressive universalism. Teachers, involved in the implementation of this project, enhanced their cross-disciplinary skills and knowledge. In addition, they applied innovative pedagogical methods and their collaboration helped them share and improve their integrated STEAM instructional units.

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