Creating the Model


  • This lesson expands on the notion of engineering design, by building 3-D models of simple designs, and testing the structures on a shake-table.

Estimated Time

  • 45-60 minutes.


  • Pegboards:
    • 12" x 12” (30.5cm x 30.5cm) wooden boards
    • Thickness: 1/4” (6mm)
    • Mass: 0.61 lb (275 grams)
    • 12 x 12 hole grid spaced at 1” (2.5cm)
    • Rigid (stiffness is significantly larger than columns)
  • 3/8” dowel rods- 3 lengths
    • 12 in
    • 30 in
    • 48 in
  • Glue guns and glue
  • Building Data Log Handout
  • Pens and/or Pencils
  • Shake table: To build your own visit MCEER Information Service


  • Students will better understand what has been explored in the previous earthquake engineering design lessons, by putting their designs to the test.

National Standards Addressed

Math (Presented by National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 2000)
  • Use visualization, spatial reasoning, and geometric modeling to solve problems
  • Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements
Problem Solving
  • Solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts
  • Apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve problems
  • Communicate their mathematical thinking coherently and clearly to peers, teachers, and others
  • Use the language of mathematics to express mathematical ideas precisely
  • Recognize and apply mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics
Science (Presented by National Research Council in 1996)
Unifying Concepts and Processes
  • Evidence, models, and explanation
Physical Science
  • Motions and forces
Science and Technology
  • Abilities of technological design
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
  • Natural hazards
  • Risks and benefits
Technology (Presented by the International Society for Technology in Education in 1998)
Social, ethical, and human issues
  • Students understand the ethical, cultural, and societal issues related to technology
Technology productivity tools
  • Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity

Engagement Activity (optional)

  • Give student pairs a piece of paper, and an empty plastic bottle or can. Have students stand the bottle right side up on the piece of paper. Using the piece of paper as a shake table, let the students explore how little force is needed to topple the bottle.
  • Inform students that today using that knowledge, students are going to be creating an actual model, which will be tested.

Instructional Plan

Divide students into groups of 3-4 people. Lay out the following parameters:

  • Each group will build a five-story building, using the following materials.
    • 3/16” dowel rods of 3 lengths
      • 1 story – 12 in
      • 3 stories – 30 in
      • 5 stories – 48 in
    • Pegboards (for each floor and the ceiling)
  • The scale we will use is 1 inch = 1 foot
    • The height of the first floor must be 12 feet.
    • The height of the second through fifth floors must be 10 feet
  • You are given a budget of $10,000,000. Prices for materials are as follows:
    • Each floor: $500,000
    • Roof: $1,000,000
    • 1 story support: $300,000
    • 3 story support: $475,000
    • 5 story support: $700,000
  • Buildings must be able to survive, without collapsing, an earthquake as simulated on the shake table.
  • Students will build the structures, keeping track of the budget on the Building Data Log Handout.

Sustaining, Concluding, or Extending Activities (optional)


  • Put students’ buildings on shake tables with up to 30lbs of weight on them. See how many survive.
    • Use solid weights, such as 5 and 10 lb flat weights used at a gym.
    • Stack the weights throughout the model, so that the heavier amount is on the base floor, and the lighter amount is on the top.
      • (For instance place a 10 lb weight on the ground floor, and 5 lb weights on the 1st through 5th floors.)
  • Those that survive the weight test have a contest to see which can withstand the greatest weight in an earthquake.


  • Have students experiment with different dowel widths, or with more or less rods, to see which is sturdier.

Evaluation and Assessment

  • Student buildings will be assessed on creativity, durability, and budget constraints.
  • Using the information gathered from the multiple buildings constructed in their classroom, students will be asked to make conjectures as to what a building needs to withstand an earthquake.

E-Resources, Print Materials, and Hands-on Activities

  • Building Data Log Worksheet
  • Build you own Shake table, click here for instructions.