MISSION VIEJO : Students Get Close Look at Quakes

When the big one hits, the students at La Paz Intermediate School will know precisely how big it really is.

Two weeks ago, a seismograph was installed on the campus, making La Paz only the second junior high in California to have a fully operational seismology lab, teacher Daniel Doty said. The other junior high is in Diamond Bar.

The instrument--purchased for $17,000 with grants from GTE and a foundation--includes a detector buried in front of the school and a barrel graph, which would record the quake, displayed in a nearby hallway.

So far, the equipment has only recorded jumping students and passing trucks. But it also can detect any quake in Orange County and perhaps Southern California, Doty said.


Seismology “is something the students need to know,” said Doty, who will help teach the school’s Earth science classes. Instructor Betty Foley will teach the students the mathematics--graphing, ratios, charting, forecasting--that a seismologist uses.

“Earthquakes happen all of the time in this area, and for the students, this is real-life science,” Doty said.

Foley said it is easier to teach students math when they can see how it’s applied.

“Scientists work with math--you shouldn’t separate them into two compartments,” she said. “This way, the students will see that math is something they will use all of their lives. And it’s easier for them to learn when it is a hands-on activity, rather than on a teacher-directed project.”


The program is receiving statewide support.

Caltech, Cal State Fullerton and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Northern California, along with other institutions, are providing Doty and his students with information about recent earthquakes worldwide.

“We believe that students will remain interested in science if they have a real opportunity to apply what they learn to something that is meaningful to them,” Livermore seismologist Eileen Vergino said. “And what could be more meaningful to a student in California than earthquakes?”

David Clouse and three of his classmates--Danny Besharati, Kevin Lau and Brian Beichner--couldn’t wait for the class to begin and have been spending their lunch hours in Doty’s classroom, using a computer to chart 1990 earthquakes that have occurred worldwide.

“Before this, I didn’t even know what a seismograph looked like or really what it was,” David, 13, said. “But this has been a good learning experience. I’m learning earthquakes happen all around the world.”

The others agreed.

“I didn’t realize there were that many” quakes, said Kevin, 12.