Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Here are some resources for a series of lessons on "Disasters".

This is a topic that should make it easy to engage your students. Who doesn't share a morbid fascination with things that blow up, fall down or cause mayhem?

First, let's make an inventory of catastrophes that might overtake us (Catastrophe, by the way, comes from a Greek word used in the theatre and simply means 'overturning' or a 'sudden turn'). We'll divide them into categories:

Natural disasters:
  • Earthquakes
  • Volcanos
  • Hurricanes / Typhoons/ Cyclones
  • Tornados
  • Tsunamis
  • Bushfires
  • Floods
  • Drought / Heatwave
  • Hailstorms
  • Landslides/ Avalanche
  • Pandemics
  • Asteroid or comet impact
Man-made disasters:
  • War
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Famine
  • Explosions
  • Crashes (rockets, planes, trains, cars, Zeppelin, etc)
  • Shipwrecks
  • Toxic spillage (chemical, radioactive)
  • Grey goo scenario
  • Quantum singularity / strange matter scenario
  • Overpopulation
  • Climate change / greenhouse effect
  • Tragedies of the Commons

A range of activities can be undertaken to explore these phenomena. These resources are geared towards the Life skills section of the Year 7-10 NSW Science Syllabus, and will be suitable for presentation to lower secondary or mixed-capacity classes requiring special assistance.

Students could view any number of the following video fragments and answer questions about those disasters, such as
  1. Categorising them as natural or man-made,
  2. Estimating its severity (by destruction or mortality),
  3. Commenting on the rarity or repeatability of the disaster,
  4. Describing the circumstances necessary for a person to be at risk (eg, living near a volcano, living near the coast, living in a certain climate or environment).
Engagement tasks:
Students could write a first hand account of a disaster, describing what happened and how it felt.

Students could construct a model of a volcano out of papier mâché or modeling clay and simulate an "eruption" with a variety of benign reactions. Sudsy vinegar and bi-carb soda is one option, potassium pomangenate (Condy's crystals) and Glycerine is another. Both would require an outdoor lesson to do safely.

Students could undertake an experiment to try and create a vortex. The simplest vortex experiment consists of two large soft drink bottles taped together, mouth to mouth, with one bottle filled with water.  Another experiment is more elaborate, involving setting up a large flat indoor space with five or more pedestal fans in a circle, angled slightly inward. A smoke machine in the centre makes the vortex of spinning air visible, although some effect could also be demonstrated with any gossamer material such as a silk scarf, plastic bag or styrene pellets.

A third outdoor experiment could be done under teacher supervision as a companion to a viewing of the Hindenburg disaster. Two party balloons can be filled; one with Helium to demonstrate a non-flammable lifting gas, and another with natural gas (if Hydrogen gas is too hard to come by). Both balloons are placed at the end of long poles and brought into contact with a candle flame. The relative safety of flammable and non-flammable gases will become obvious.

Video material:

Flooding (especially relevant for Hawkesbury Nepean residents - footage is of local floods).




Hurricanes, Typhoons and Cyclones (you might want to spell out that these are the same)


Asteroid Impact

Hindenburg Disaster
Oh, the humanity!