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STEM Design Challenge: Building Earthquake Proof Buildings AND a Shake Table

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Challenge: What is the tallest earthquake proof structure your group can build?

Constraints and Rules: You are limited to using only the following materials in your actual structure: 10 Pieces of Spaghetti, 20 Marshmallows, and 30 centimeters of Tape. Your building will be considered “earthquake proof” if it can retain its complete structure on the shake table and not fall over during a period of 10 seconds of shaking the table. For the height, the highest point of the roof will be measured. The roof must be where 3 or more pieces come to a point or where four corners imply a flat roof surface. No “Antenna” type structures will not be included in the height measurement.

(My inspiration for this activity was The Marshmallow Challenge!)

This activity is well suited for 6th to 9th grade students.

Step 1: Be Inspired.

Picture of Be Inspired.

Depending on your teacher education background, or your personal interests, earthquakes may or may not be your "thing". Just like students often watch YouTube videos to learn new things, we as teachers turn to the internet to find out interesting and important connections to make our instruction relevant and rigorous for our students.

Ross Stein is a leading earthquake expert (ahem, geophysicist) and has a great ted talk about earthquakes. Another relevant video about why you do not prepare for earthquakes is also worth a watch.

Seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones is very active on Twitter and worth following. The USGS has a TON of great resources for other lesson ideas to follow or precede this instructable activity.

To setup, I have all the materials (for the most part) ready to go at each lab space. I do not count out marshmallows, but use the honor system and have a cupful easy to access at each table. I let students also get their own spaghetti noodle pieces so they can ensure each piece is to their liking (and again, it saves me time so I don't have to count them out for 24 groups that may do this in a day).

This is excellent! I really love the DIY Shake Tables! Thank you for sharing this exciting STEM challenge. :)
From one Jess to the next, thanks!