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Small or Far Away

Primary school students learning about seismology Vika Moisey

Vika Moisey

Vika Moisey

13 April 2015

This ambitious partnership between primary school teacher Vika Moisey and Dr Anna Horleston, from the School of Earth Sciences, aimed to teach year 5 students about the science of earthquakes.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) run a seismology programme for secondary schools, but University of Bristol alumni Vika Moisey wanted to get her primary school in on the action. With help from Paul Denton from the BGS and a Royal Society Partnership grant of over £1500; Vika and seismologist Dr Anna Horleston created their first seismology project for primary schools.

The initial idea expanded into a 10-week programme. It covered everything: From the structure of the Earth, to brittle and ductile materials, seismic waves, seismometer design and earthquake-resistant buildings, right through to the best things to pack into an earthquake emergency bag.

After a summer of planning, the project started in September 2013 for Year 5 at Birdwell Academy in Bristol. The grant from the Royal Society helped purchase a seismometer for the school, the first in a UK primary school, and Anna worked with the students each week to give them the opportunity to work with a scientist.

In December the class held a presentation afternoon for the parents, where all the students ran stalls to display their work. Students designed their own posters and tabletop displays so that they could explain their work to groups of parents. They used demonstrations and experiments and challenged their parents to build an earthquake resistant structure in only 3 minutes. Parents and the head teacher were amazed at the level of understanding they had gained in just 10 weeks.

“I saw 9 year olds understanding seismic waves and how they propagate through the Earth; children who could tell me how the Earth is structured; and how, from…their seismometer, they could tell if an earthquake was small and nearby, or large and far away.” – Dr. Anna Horleston

The project has been a huge success, and the school keeps the seismometer installed in their reception office that streams a live feed to IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutes for Seismology); who make the data publicly available. A screen-shot updated every minute can be viewed at It has recorded distant, large earthquakes as well as picking up a small, local event in the Bristol Channel on 20 February 2014; which caused great excitement among the students.

Through Vika, Birdwell Academy has become a Royal Society Associate school and she has presented her teaching materials at a teacher training event in the South West. Vika and Anna will also be presenting at the Science on Stage Festival in June 2015. And of course, Vika wants to run the whole school project again so the partnership is not finished yet!

Further information

To view screenshots from the school's siesometer and for more information on the Science on Stage Festival