Glen Head Fourth Graders Become Earthquake Engineers

During their time in the STEAM Lab, fourth graders are extending their classroom science learning about waves and Earth's features as they collaborate in partnerships and work as earthquake engineers. After considering what they already know about natural disasters and how scientists use maps to understand the Earth, students dove into their work as engineers by first experiencing the damage earthquakes can cause.  Using a shake table, as well as other modeling materials, students learned that earthquakes may cause structures to shear, or tilt, making them unsafe for living things.  

With a problem in mind, students began working through the steps of the engineering design process as they explored how engineers make buildings safe and able to withstand earthquake forces. Like all engineers, students first researched real-world examples of earthquake-resistant structures and used their findings to inform their next steps. After noticing that earthquake-resistant structures share common features, such as X-shaped cross-braces, strong columns, and reinforced shear walls, engineering pairs considered how they would use this research and up to 10 materials to strengthen a basic building model and prevent it from shearing during a simulated earthquake on our class shake tables. To test their ideas, each group was given a one-room building unit made of only columns and beams. After planning how they would use their research and materials to solve the shearing problem, groups worked to strengthen their buildings before testing. Once each group's model went through a high-magnitude earthquake, engineers used what they observed and learned from testing to write rules, or building codes, for engineers, especially those who live and work in areas that are more prone to earthquakes.  

Moving forward, fourth graders will transfer their learning about earthquake-resistant structures to a larger model that mimics a three-story building framework. This time, engineering pairs will negotiate and consider weight and price as they decide which materials to add to their framework and what their final design will look like. Once complete, engineers will test their models to find failure points, or points where the model is unsafe; like engineers in the field, students will discover that failure testing allows engineers to find and solve problems before wasting time, money, materials, and potentially harming living things.  

Throughout the earthquake engineering unit, fourth graders have been challenged to work as creative and critical problem solvers who show a deep commitment to science, safety, and improving our Earth. A special thanks goes to Gerard Pascucci for his craftsmanship and help in creating our building frameworks! 

Article written by Ms. Adrien Kaye   Photos by Shelly Newman