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December 13, 2005 > Weibel Elementary acquires seismograph

Weibel Elementary acquires seismograph

by Todd Griffin

Earthquakes are a fact of life in the Bay Area. Those who live in the area should have a basic understanding of earthquakes and their impact. So, when Weibel Elementary School science teacher Patrick Colglazier saw an opportunity to participate in a program that would bring a seismograph to the school, he took advantage of it. Colglazier believes "you don't bring kids in with a lecture; you attract kids with something that's interesting. They ask questions and they want to learn at that point." A seismograph (a sensitive instrument for measuring earth movement) certainly qualifies as a tool to get kids interested.

Colglazier and fellow teacher Jennifer Milano submitted an application in April of this year for a grant from Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), an education consortium funded by the National Science Foundation. "Seismographs in Schools," an IRIS program, provides seismographs for secondary schools and universities across the country, with 12 new participants awarded this year. Weibel was the only elementary school chosen. The letter of award from IRIS credits this to the "well thought out plan" submitted by Colglazier and Milano, who hope to get young students interested in plate tectonics and faults, epicenter location, and fault monitoring.

Following announcement of the award last summer, the seismograph and associated software was shipped to Weibel, where Colglazier has been working to make it operational. A concrete slab was poured to mount the instrument and isolate it from most vibrations caused by human activity. Colglazier traveled to Chicago to participate in a comprehensive "how to" IRIS course on assembly, calibration, and operation of the seismograph. A small shelter will house the instrument to protect it from the weather.

Once the seismograph is ready, a cable will be routed into the science lab and connected to a computer that will receive and process data. Students will be able to interact directly with the seismograph using this dedicated computer, and a similar computer in Milano's classroom. Earthquake information will be captured as it occurs and data saved for later viewing and analysis. The instrument is so sensitive that it should record earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 or greater anywhere in the world, as well as much weaker quakes in California; it is expected to record earthquakes every day. This should provide enough data to stimulate and engage students in earth science studies throughout the year. Colglazier also anticipates that the program will benefit sixth graders who, each year, study earthquake resistant housing design.

"Weibel," points out Colglazier, "is located 300 to 400 feet from one of the offshoot cracks of the Hayward fault," making it an ideal location to monitor earth movement in this very active earthquake region. Since Weibel is the only elementary school to participate, IRIS will be following the success of their seismograph program to determine if additional devices should be awarded to elementary schools in the future. IRIS is hopeful the lesson plans developed at Weibel will be a model they can provide to other elementary school science programs.

If preparations continue to go well, the seismograph should be installed and generating data by January. Another exciting aspect of the program is that Seismographs in Schools provides near real-time data from many of their participants on the IRIS website at It is estimated that Weibel data will be included in February.

This online presence will broaden the benefit well beyond Weibel students, since anyone will be able to access the data through the website. In addition, Colglazier is amenable to visits by students from other local schools to see the seismograph firsthand. "I have no problem with other schools coming, looking at it, trying the data," he asserted. "We're not going to keep it to ourselves."

Colglazier is grateful for the assistance of the Weibel parents group, which has supported this program throughout. He also underscored the importance of these parents to the success of the entire science program. "The parents group at Weibel has been very supportive of the science lab," he said, "and because of that support I have felt empowered to go out and find these things."

Fred E. Weibel Elementary School
45135 S. Grimmer Blvd., Fremont
(510) 651-6958

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