What is Engineering Design


This lesson helps students understand the basic rules and regulations engineers follow when designing buildings.

Estimated Time

30-45 minutes


Computer with internet connection and a way for all students to see the computer.


Students will understand the importance of engineering design, and how it relates to earthquakes.

National Standards Addressed

Math (Presented by National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 2000)
  • Use visualization, spatial reasoning, and geometric modeling to solve problems
Problem Solving
  • Solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts
  • Recognize and apply mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics
  • Use representations to model and interpret physical, social, and mathematical phenomena
Science (Presented by National Research Council in 1996)
Physical science
  • Motions and forces
Earth & space science
  • Structure of the earth system
  • Earth's history
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, & human issues
  • Students understand the ethical, cultural, and societal issues related to technology.
Technoloy research tools
  • Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.

Engagement Activity (optional)

Ask the students if they’ve ever watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and seen what the show calls “Demolition Day”. Ask students if they have ever seen a building be demolished by something other than large trucks and people with sledgehammers.

Instructional Plan

As a class visit the NEES Wood Project online. Watch videos of construction of building, and video of final shaking.

  • This Web site shows the videos of the various phases in testing this building before the final shake.

Have students speculate as to what engineering design is.

  • Engineers work to make building safer, and accessible for all people.

The rules engineers follow are called codes:

  • Accessibility codes
    • Making places accessible to people in wheelchairs
  • Fire and safety codes
    • Making sure in case of a fire the people in the building would be protected and safe
    • This includes things like sprinkler systems, exits, staircases
  • Hazard codes
    • Making sure buildings are safe in case of tornadoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes

Sustaining, Concluding, or Extending Activities (optional)


  • Have students watch the final tests, after making predictions as a class whether or not the building will survive the test or not.
  • This Web site shows the video of the final shake based on the Northridge Earthquake, from a number of different cameras.


  • Have students explore NEES @ Buffalo’s Web site, viewing the other tests structural engineers complete in relation to earthquake engineering design.

Evaluation and Assessment

Student understanding will be evaluated through student’s discussion and questions about the events and the videos.

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