administration student task rubric student work technical quality
Earthquake Epicenter
Administration Procedures
Grade 5-8 Performance Task
Contributed by: New York State Education Department (NYSED)
NYS Alternative Assessment in Science Project (1996)


Students use chart data to determine the location of the epicenter of an earthquake.

This task assesses students' abilities to generalize and infer, organize data, interpret data, and apply mathematical concepts.

This task is designed to take students approximately 20 minutes to complete.

Overall Task Content Area:

Earth and Space Science

Specific Knowledge Areas:

Structure of the earth system

Performance Expectations:

  • using equipment
  • organizing and representing data
  • formulating conclusions from investigational data
  • applying scientific principles to develop explanations

National Science Education Standards:

8 ASI 1: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
1.3 Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data. The use of tools and techniques, including mathematics, will be guided by the question asked and the investigations students design. The use of computers for the collection, summary, and display of evidence is part of this standard. Students should be able to access, gather, store, retrieve, and organize data, using hardware and software designed for these purposes.

1.8 Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry. Mathematics is essential to asking and answering questions about the natural world. Mathematics can be used to ask questions; to gather, organize, and present data; and to structure convincing explanations.

8D ESS 1: Structure of the earth system
1.2 Lithospheric plates on the scales of continents and oceans constantly move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle. Major geological events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building, result from these plate motions.

(Use the "hot" link on the PALS home page to check the full text of related National Science Education Standards, if desired.)

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:

AL3: Use mathematical models to represent and understand quantitative relationships:
Grades 6-8 c. model and solve contextualized problems using various representations, such as graphs, tables, and equations

GEO4: Use visualization, spatial reasoning, and geometric modeling to solve problems:
Grades 6-8 l. use two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional objects to visualize and solve problems such as those involving surface area and volume

DAP3: Develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data:
Grades 6-8 c. use observations about differences between two or more samples to make conjectures about the populations from which the samples were taken

PS2: Solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts:
Grades 6-8

CNX3: Recognize and use connections among mathematical ideas:
Grades 6-8

General Instructions to the Teacher:

This task is designed to take approximately 20 minutes to complete.

Students will be working individually during this exercise.

Students should be ready to work as soon as the period begins. The materials should be set out at each lab station, if possible. A central supply area, if needed, should be easily accessible. All supplies should be clearly labeled.

Materials for "Earthquake Epicenter":

The teacher will need:

  • extra supply of compasses

At each station students should have:

  • compass
  • calculator

Advance Preparation:

  • Make sure the compasses have a metric scale.


  • Advise students how to handle the compasses appropriately.
  • Be careful
  • Teachers and students should always exercise appropriate safety precautions and utilize appropriate laboratory procedures and equipment when working on science performance tasks.


  • Consider the addition of identified cities to predict earthquake arrival times.
  • Consider questions about earthquake preparedness.


©1997-2005 SRI International. All rights reserved. Terms of Use