About this Interactive

Introduction | Goals | How to Use This Site | Credits


Dynamic Earth is an interactive Web site where students can learn about the structure of the earth, the movements of its tectonic plates, as well as the forces that create mountains, valleys, volcanoes, and earthquakes.

The first section focuses on the layers that make up the earth — from the thin crust on the surface all the way down to the metallic core at the very center. Next, the interactive explores the concept of plate tectonics — the well-accepted theory that states the earth is broken up into about a dozen separate plates that are in constant motion. Students will learn the names of the tectonic plates and will be able to identify whether certain plates are moving toward, spreading apart from, or sliding past each other. Finally, students will learn how mountains and other structures and earthquakes and other major geological events are caused by the slipping, sliding, and colliding of tectonic plates.

Learning about the earth is an important topic for students of all ages. Global warming is a pressing social and environmental concern; to address this problem, students must become informed citizens. The Dynamic Earth interactive presents science concepts that every student needs to learn to better understand forces within our planet.


According to the National Science Education Standards, all students in grades 5-8 should develop an understanding of:
  • The structure of the earth's system
  • Earth's history
Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard (Content Standard D: Earth and Space Science) include:


  • The solid earth is layered with a lithosphere; hot, convecting mantle; and dense, metallic core.
  • Lithospheric plates on the scale 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.
  • Landforms are the result of a combination of constructive and destructive forces. Constructive forces include crustal deformation, volcanic eruption, and deposition of sediment, while destructive forces include weathering and erosion.


  • The earth processes we see today, including erosion, movement of lithospheric plates, and changes in atmospheric composition, are similar to those that occurred in the past. Earth's history is also influenced by occasional catastrophes, such as the impact of an asteroid or comet.
(National Science Education Standards, 1996)

With these expectations in mind, the specific goals of Dynamic Earth are for students to be able to:

  • Identify the different components of earth's structure. Visual diagrams and interactive presentations introduce students to the main components of the earth — the crust, mantle, and core — and the lithosphere that anchors the continents and oceans.

  • Understand the concepts of plate tectonics, recognizing that the earth's tectonic plates are in constant motion. Students will discover how scientists figured out that the current arrangement of continents on the globe is the result of a specific history of movements in the lithosphere, which is broken into sections called tectonic plates. Students will observe images of the earth at different points in history and see that the continents were not always located where they are today. Students also will predict how the continents might look in the future.

  • Describe the results of interactions between tectonic plates. Various landforms (such as mountains and valleys) and specific geologic events (such as earthquakes and volcanoes) are the result of movements along the boundaries between tectonic plates. After learning about the different ways that tectonic plates can meet and interact, students will discover that many common landforms and phenomena are caused by their meeting, spreading, and shifting.

How to Use This Site

Dynamic Earth consists of four sections and an assessment. Each section explores one aspect of the earth's structure and the movement of its tectonic plates. Simply follow the instructions on the screen to learn about the layers that make up the earth; how the continents arrived at their current locations; the constant movement of the tectonic plates; and the volcanoes, earthquakes, and other events that result from the movements of the plates.

Students will view animations, read explanations, and use their mouse to drag and drop the earth's continents in their correct places, highlight features on a map, and cause earth's tectonic plates to move. At various points, students will check their knowledge by taking a quick quiz or playing a game to see how much they have learned about the Dynamic Earth.

Students should read section introductions carefully, as they give a basic overview of concepts, and use the Glossary to look up definitions to unfamiliar terms.

Using models of the earth's crust and making comparisons to familiar objects will help students retain the Dynamic Earth information. For example, students can bring in materials that resemble the earth's layers and build a class model of the earth as a way to make the information more concrete.

Dynamic Earth includes an extensive assessment section designed to evaluate how well students have learned the interactive's content and skills. Multiple-choice questions, fill-in-the-blanks, and problem-solving questions are used to measure students' subject knowledge, and printable scorecards track progress.

Technical Requirements

  1. Browser using Internet Explorer 5 (and higher) and Mozilla 5 (and higher). Best results will be with using latest browser versions

  2. Flash player 7 minimum requirement

  3. Javascript in browser is turned on


Production Credits

Dynamic Earth is a production of Thirteen/WNET New York. Copyright 2007, Annenberg Media. All rights reserved.

Content Production:
Ashlinn Quinn, Writer
Ashlinn Quinn is an Outreach Producer in Thirteen/WNET New York's Educational and Community Outreach department, the LAB@Thirteen. She develops and manages educational outreach projects associated with PBS broadcasts. Recent projects have included producing a media-rich Web site for high school Global History teachers, WIDE ANGLE: "Window into Global History"; creating educational materials for the 2006 PBS broadcast series African American Lives; coordinating outreach events associated with the PBS news magazine program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly; and generating interactive online content for projects including the teen-oriented broadcast program What's Up in Finance and the animated kids' news Web site News Flash Five. Before joining Thirteen's Education Department, she worked first as a music teacher and then at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, where she wrote curriculum and conducted teacher professional development programs focusing on hands-on science. She holds a B.A. degree with dual concentrations in Music and Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley; and a M.A. degree in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago.

Interactive and Broadband Unit:
Anthony Chapman, Director of Interactive and Broadband
Anu Krishnan, Producer
Shannon Palmer, Flash Programmer
Lenny Drozner, Designer and Flash Animator
Ying Zhou-Hudson, Graphics Production
Brian Santalone, HTML Implementation
Leslie Kriesel, Copy Editor

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