One of the most innovative components of the site is the structural simulation program that mimics professional structural analysis software used by structural engineers to design and simulate the behavior of structures under dynamic loads. Using simplified software suitable for middle school students, a graphical user interface will allow students to select the number of columns and their layout for their structure from a predetermined list of available members. This process will be mainly a click-and-drag activity for rapid model development.
The student designers will need to satisfy specified gravity loads (minimum number of columns) and seismic performance criteria considering cost and safety. They will then be able to simulate the response of their structures under real earthquake records, be given the opportunity to modify their design, and repeat the earthquake simulation to see if they can improve their performance. The performance of their structural model to earthquake shaking will be based on a score weighing maximum drifts and accelerations and ranking the structure as operational, limited occupancy or collapsed, similar to the FEMA post-earthquake evaluation of buildings (green, yellow and red tags).
The students will then be able to construct their designed structure using wooden dowels, pre-cut pegboard and hot glue guns. This will be followed by shake table testing to verify its performance. The building materials were selected to allow students to quickly and economically construct their models, given the limited time and resources in the classroom. The software program has been specifically calibrated to capture the behavior of these wood models through experimental and numerical simulations conducted by the project team.
Teachers will find a detailed lesson plan, which provides instructions, links to supportive resources, and additional projects.