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Science and Technology/Engineering
Curriculum Framework - Spring 2001

What It Looks Like in the Classroom

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Additional Ideas for Developing Investigations and Learning Experiences and Suggested Extensions to Learning in Technology/Engineering are in Appendix III.

Local Wonders

Adapted from the Building Big Activity Guide, pp 36-37

Technology/Engineering, Grades 6-8

Your community may not have an Eiffel Tower or a Hoover Dam, but you can choose any structure in your community that is significant because of its appearance, uniqueness, or historical or social impact. Consider local bridges, tunnels, skyscrapers or other buildings, domes, dams, and other constructions. You can e-mail the American Society of Civil Engineers at to connect with a volunteer civil engineer for this activity. To help select your local wonder, have the class brainstorm a list, take a bus tour around town for ideas, or collect some photographs for discussion.

After building newspaper towers and talking about structures and foundations, fifth and sixth graders at the Watertown, Massachusetts Boys and Girls Club brainstormed a list of interesting structures in their town. They selected St. Patrick's, an elaborate church across the street from the clubhouse. The children brainstormed questions about their local wonder. Those with an engineering focus included: When was it built? How long did the construction take? Who built it? What is it made of? Why did the builders choose that material? What is underneath the building? What holds it up? What keeps it from falling down? How was it built? Were there any problems during construction and how were they solved? Questions with a social/ environmental focus included: Why was it built? What did the area look like before it was built?

Next, the students investigated their local wonder with some hands-on activities that explore basic engineering principles such as forces, compression, tension, shape, and torsion. They toured the structure, took photographs, researched the structure, interviewed long-time community members about their memories about the structure, and interviewed engineers, architects, and contractors who worked on the project. They conducted research at the library, the Historical Society, and the Watertown Building Inspector's office, where they acquired the building's plans and copies of various permits. They used this information to develop a timeline of the building's history.

Students can use the following method to estimate the size of a large structure. First, measure a friend's height. Have your friend stand next to the structure, while you stand a distance away (across the street, for instance). Close one eye and use your fingers to "stack" your friend's height until you reach the top of the structure. Multiply the number of times you stacked your friend by his/her height to find the total estimated height of the structure.

The outline of the final report may look like this:

  1. Name of group submitting report
  2. Name and description of structure (identify the type of structure, e.g., bridge, skyscraper, and describe and explain its parts)
  3. Location
  4. Approximate date structure was completed
  5. Approximate size
  6. Why we chose this particular local wonder
  7. What's important about our local wonder
  8. Things we learned about our local wonder (include information such as type of construction, engineering design concepts, and forces acting on the structure)
  9. Interesting facts about our local wonder

Any group that completes this project can submit its investigation to big. Send them your complete report, including photographs or original drawings of your local wonder. Students should be encouraged to draw the structure from a variety of different perspectives. Students can also share their reports with other classes in their school or at a local town meeting.

Assessment Strategies

  • Share examples of other groups' completed investigations with the students at the beginning of the project. Discuss and develop criteria for effective write-ups, and identify what constitutes quality work.
  • Students can record their learning in an engineering journal. Students can write down each day what they have learned, questions that they may have, resources they found helpful, and resources they need to find. The teacher should read the journals to monitor students' progress and level of participation, and to identify what topics the students have mastered and which areas of learning need to be reinforced by additional instruction.
  • Post your local wonder report on your school district website, on the town website, or on a town agency's website, e.g., the Chamber of Commerce. Include an e-mail address and encourage feedback.
  • At the end of the unit, provide the students with a photograph of a similar structure from another town or area. Ask them to write a final paper that compares this structure to the local wonder they just studied. How are they alike? Different? Compare the materials, design, and purpose of these structures.

Note: The applicable standards may vary depending upon the type of structure selected.

Engineering Design Learning Standards

2.2 Demonstrate methods of representing solutions to a design problem, e.g., sketches, orthographic projections, multi-view drawings.
2.5 Explain how such design features as size, shape, weight, function, and cost limitations would affect the construction of a given prototype.

Construction Technologies Learning Standards

5.1 Describe and explain parts of a structure, e.g., foundation, flooring, decking, wall, roofing systems.
5.2 Identify and describe three major types of bridges (e.g., arch, beam, and suspension) and their appropriate uses (e.g., site, span, resources, and load).
5.3 Explain how the forces of tension, compression, torsion, bending, and shear affect the performance of bridges.
5.4 Describe and explain the effects of loads and structural shapes on bridges.

Last Updated: May 1, 2001
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