Continental Drift: Fabricating a World of the Past, Present, and Future - SCOPES Digital Fabrication

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Kevin Carpenito
K-12 teacher


This lesson integrates digital fabrication into an 8th grade Earth and Space Science unit on plate tectonics. Using a vinyl cutter, teachers will guide students to create continental and landmass stickers. Ultimately, students will create a Pangaean sticker of the future and infer the shape of this landmass through core ideas around convection currents, continental drift, sea floor spreading, and plate boundaries.

What You'll Need

Teacher Note:

This lesson assumes educators have an introductory level of experience with Inkscape and their vinyl cutter. If an educator using this lesson has no prior experience, they should use preparatory periods to explore these tools. Additionally, this lesson requires educators to manage large quantities of students’ files. For specific questions, leave a comment on the lesson below or reach out to local Fab Lab managers.


Digital Fabrication Software & Equipment:


Vinyl Cutter

Vinyl (at least 6” per student)


Design Files:

USGS Fossil and Mountain Chain Evidence

Sticker Examples 

USGS Plate Boundary Stencil

Future Pangaea Inkscape Map


Additional Materials:

USGS Worksheets

The Instructions

Day 4

Create stickers of landmasses with evidence of continental drift using Inkscape.

Share with all students USGS Fossil and Mountain Chain Evidence 

Open a new Inkscape document

Within File, select Import

Locate the file and select OK

Select the image

Within Path, select Trace Bitmap → this will make a Trace Bitmap window appear

In the Trace Bitmap window, select Brightness Cutoff

  • Adjust the Threshold located to the right of Brightness Cutoff to 0.900

Select OK and close the Trace Bitmap window

Move the traced, darker image and original image to opposite sides of the canvas

Select the traced, darker image 

Press “3” to zoom into the selected image

Within Object, select Fill and Stroke… → the Fill and Stroke window will appear

  • Under the Fill Tab, select the ⛝, meaning No Paint
  • Under the Stroke Paint Tab, select ⬜, meaning Flat Color

Close the Fill and Stroke window

Within Path, select Break Apart → this will separate all shapes within the traced image

Select the largest outline of each continent or landmass (Greenland, India, Australia/Papua & Papua New Guinea)

Drag each of the largest outlines onto the canvas

Assign new shapes, such as stars and squares, to serve as symbols of evidence

Add these symbols inside the landmass outlines in the locations of their evidence (Refer back to the original image when placing these representative shapes) 


Within Object, select Fill and Stroke…

Select outline traces of the eight landmasses

  • Under the Fill tab, select ⬜ 
  • Set R, G, and B values to 0 
  • Set the A value to 255

Select the symbols (stars, squares, etc.)

  • Under the Fill tab, select ⬜
  • Set R, G, B, and A values to 255


Depending on your vinyl cutter, you may need to format the design differently to export the Inkscape file to the cutter. “Package” it with a rectangular box in the background.

Export the file and vinyl cut stickers for groups of students.

Here is one example of evidence landmass stickers: Sticker Examples

SAFETY NOTE: Only those trained on the vinyl cutter should operate the machine. While the vinyl cutter is in operation, ensure any extremities or loose clothing are kept clear of the moving blade. Users should always remain present while cutting and pause the machine first before adjusting or removing any material.



Day 5

Present students with information on types of plate boundaries in station activities.

Day 5 Lesson Plan: Introduction to Plate Tectonics


Sticker station activity: Print or create a map of the world’s tectonic plate boundaries from the USGS Plate Boundary Stencil. Using the stickers for yesterday’s lesson, have students place the stickers on the map. Ensure students understand the landmass stickers represent evidence of continental drift.

Day 6

Create a sticker of a future Pangaea using evidence from plate boundaries.

Share with students the Future Pangaea Inkscape Map

With the adjustable “Map of the World: Future”, use the arrow keys to move the landmasses with the following directions

  • Convergent plate boundaries (GREEN) move landmasses TOWARDS these lines
  • Divergent plate boundaries (RED) move landmasses AWAY from these lines
  • Transform plate boundaries (YELLOW) rotate landmasses along these lines


Once students have moved their landmasses to create one or multiple super-continents, delete the translucent background.

Select the newly moved landmass shapes

Within Path, select Union → this will create a stencil of overlapping landmasses

Select outline traces of the super-continent(s)

  • Under the Fill tab, select ⬜ 
  1. Set R, G, and B values to 0 
  • Under the Stroke Pain tab, select ⛝

As before, export the file to the vinyl cutter. Add a gray background box if necessary.


Once all of the designs of students’ future Pangaea have been cut, allow students to explain why they believe the world will take the shape they created. Educators may want to display students’ work up to this point for everyone to see the world of past, present, and future. 


  • (MS-ESS2-3): "Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earths materials and the flow of energy that drives this process. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the processes of melting, crystallization, weathering, deformation, and sedimentation, which act together to form minerals and rocks through the cycling of Earths materials.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the identification and naming of minerals.]"
  • (MS-ESS2-4): Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earths surface at varying time and spatial scales. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how processes change Earths surface at time and spatial scales that can be large (such as slow plate motions or the uplift of large mountain ranges) or small (such as rapid landslides or microscopic geochemical reactions), and how many geoscience processes (such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and meteor impacts) usually behave gradually but are punctuated by catastrophic events. Examples of geoscience processes include surface weathering and deposition by the movements of water, ice, and wind. Emphasis is on geoscience processes that shape local geographic features, where appropriate.]
  • (MS-ESS2-5): Analyze and interpret data on the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to provide evidence of the past plate motions. [Clarification Statement: Examples of data include similarities of rock and fossil types on different continents, the shapes of the continents (including continental shelves), and the locations of ocean structures (such as ridges, fracture zones, and trenches).] [Assessment Boundary: Paleomagnetic anomalies in oceanic and continental crust are not assessed.]
  • (Fab-Safety.1): I can safely conduct myself in a Fab Lab and observe operations under instructor guidance.
  • (Fab-Modeling.1): I can arrange and manipulate simple geometric elements, 2D shapes, and 3D solids using a variety of technologies.
  • (Fab-Fabrication.1): I can follow instructor guided steps that link a software to a machine to produce a simple physical artifact.
  • (Fab-Design.1): I can be responsible for various activities throughout a design process within a group under instructor guidance.

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