Plate Tectonics

Plate Tectonics

Plate tectonics theory, formulated in the 1960s and 70s, states that the Earth’s outer crust is composed of moving plates. For example, two hundred million years ago there was only one super continent named Pangaea. Plate tectonics also explains how mountains, volcanos and earthquakes are created as a by-product of continental drift.

Plate Tectonics Resource Handout for Classroom or Homeschool: Just $2.00

Earth Floor: Plate Tectonics4 stars

Developed in partnership with NASA Classroom of the Future, this two-story virtual museum for elementary and middle school students has an Earth Floor, and one dedicated to dinosaurs. This four-page exhibit explains plate tectonics theory and three kinds of plate movement: converging, diverging and transforming. Keep in mind that continental movement is very, very slow: "from two centimeters to ten centimeters per year about the speed at which your fingernails grow."

Enchanted Learning: Plate Tectonics5 stars

With lots of colorful illustrations, Enchanting Learning introduces continental drift and the Earth's plates to both elementary and middle-school students. If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is an animation worth? Perhaps they are priceless. The Continental Drift animation, which can be run both forward and backwards, is a must-see that shows how the continents have moved over the last 800 million years. Also noteworthy (about three quarters down the page) are the paragraph on the father of plate tectonics, Alfred Wegener, and the quizzes and printable activity sheets.

PBS: Mountain Maker, Earth Shaker5 stars

"Take a hard-boiled egg and crack its shell. Does the egg remind you of anything? The Earth, perhaps? The egg could be seen as a tiny model of the Earth. The thin shell represents the Earth's crust, divided into plates; within the shell is the firm but slippery mantle." Visit this PBS Science Odyssey (my pick of the day) for the Shockwave Plate Tectonics activity illustrating what happens when Earth's plates push and pull against each other. Next browse the thirteen related articles, also available in printable versions with white backgrounds.

UCMP: Geology: Plate Tectonics4 stars

This University of California Museum of Paleontology site has oodles of animations illustrating 750 millions years of continental drift, but they are mostly variations on the same theme; no need to view them all. The lion's share of content is found in two articles: The Rocky History of an Idea and The Mechanism Behind Plate Tectonics. Like many scientific discoveries, continental drift was not widely accepted when first introduced by Wegener in 1912. In the 1960's, "greater understanding of the ocean floor" led several scientists to publish hypothesis called "sea floor spreading" similar to Wegner's original theory of continental plates on the move.

USGS: This Dynamic Earth5 stars

"We now know that, directly or indirectly, plate tectonics influences nearly all geologic processes, past and present. Indeed, the notion that the entire Earth's surface is continually shifting has profoundly changed the way we view our world." The largest of today's picks is a site from the U.S. Geological Survey that is also available as a $7 paperback book or a free 77-page PDF. It is an excellent resource for high school and college reports. I especially liked the illustrations. Here's a current map of the continental plates.

Plate Tectonics Resource Handout for Classroom or Homeschool: Just $2.00

Honorable Mentions

The following links are either new discoveries or sites that didn't make it into my newspaper column because of space constraints. Enjoy!

ABCs of Plate Tectonics


Plate Tectonics

University of Tennessee: Plate Tectonics

Cite This Page

Feldman, Barbara. "Plate Tectonics." Surfnetkids. Feldman Publishing. 19 May. 2004. Web. 25 May. 2015. < >.

About This Page

By . Originally published May 19, 2004. Last modified May 19, 2004.

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