Shaky Situation

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What You Do:

Explore the impact of earthquakes on society.

Learn about the people who help prevent earthquake damage.

Build a shake table to model the waves formed in an earthquake.

Use the engineering design process to build and improve earthquake resistant structures.

Practice teamwork, planning, and budgeting skills.

Lesson adapted from the Engineering Adventures “Shake Things Up” curriculum from The Museum of Science, Boston.

Recommended Lead-Up Lesson: Play-Doh Planet

What You Need:


8.5” by 11” Piece of Foam Core (2 per group of students )

Masking Tape ( ~1 foot per group of students )

Large Rubber Bands, 7” ( 2 per group of students )

8” by 8” Square of Styrofoam, 1” Thick ( 1 per group of students )

PVC Pipes, 10” Long and 1.5” Diameter ( 2 per group of students )

Hex Nuts, ½” ( 16 per group of students )

Adhesive Square ( 4 per group of students )

Magnitude Meter Print-Out ( 1 meter per group of students )

Index Cards, 3” by 5” ( 10 per group of students )

Coffee Stirrers , 5” straw type ( 30 per group of students )

Pipe Cleaners ( 10 per group of students )

Masking Tape ( 1 roll )

Play Money, 5$ Bills are used in the Example ( 10 per group of students )

String ( 1 roll )

Brass Fasteners ( 10 per group of students )

Paper Clips ( 10 per group of students )

Toothpicks ( 10 per group of students )

Scissors ( 1 per group of students )

Name Tags ( 3 per group )

Ruler ( 1 per class )

Straws ( 10 per group of students )

Ruler ( 1 per class )

Brace the Building Worksheet ( 1 per student )

Stop the Slide Worksheet ( 1 per student )

Tippy Town Worksheet ( 1 per student )

Shaky Situation Presentation

What’s Happening:

Earthquakes can cause much loss of life and millions of dollars worth of damage to cities. Surface waves and body waves from earthquakes can cause walls to crack, foundations to move and even cause entire buildings to crumble. Engineers continually strive to make buildings stronger to resist the forces of earthquakes.

Engineers face the challenge of designing more robust buildings to withstand earthquakes. Earthquake-proof buildings will bend and sway with the motion of an earthquake, instead of cracking and breaking under the pressure. Have you ever looked at a really tall building, such as a skyscraper? What does it look like? Does it appear fragile and unstable? It might, but it is most probably quite sturdy and can withstand wind, rain and other natural elements and phenomenon. Earthquake-proof buildings will typically have cross bracing that forms triangles in its design geometry (like a bridge). Such buildings also normally include a large “footprint,” or base, and a tapered shape, decreasing in size as the building gets taller (or simply, smaller at the top). Short buildings are more earthquake proof than tall ones. Why do you think that is? Have you ever climbed up a tree or been on top of a playground jungle gym in the wind? Do you sway more when you are up high than when on the ground? All buildings shake at the same frequency as the shaking of the earth, but the movement is magnified as the building gets taller. Sometimes, as can be the case during an earthquake, a building will sway too much, crack and crumble and fall.

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