Name of Activity Detective Civil Engineer
Author Hannah Garfield and Kirsten Jorgensen
Keywords detective, mystery, civil engineering, structure, bridge
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level 4, 5
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Lesson 2 of the Detective Engineer: Intro to Different Types of Engineering unit – civil engineering.
Lesson Objectives: – understand what civil engineers do/design
– experience building neatly and conserving materials
Materials Needed: – Popsicle sticks
– rubber band
– masking tape
– string
– ruler
– heavy objects to test with (usually can use classroom’s textbooks)
– paper and pencils
Preparation and Set Up: – arrange students in pairs
– arrange students around classroom so each student has a 1.5′ gap (between desks or tables) they can work with
Procedure Now that the crime scene is illuminated, the students/detective engineers see that there’s a large hole in the floor in between them and the scene of the crime. Ask students how might they cross this gap and what kind of engineering knowledge would they need? Group discussion about what civil engineers do/design. Introduce materials students will use to create a structure (don’t necessarily call it a bridge) to cross the gap. Each group will receive:

  • two 1′ long pieces of tape
  • one 1′ long piece of string
  • 5 rubber bands
  • 20-30 Popsicle sticks (give all groups same amount)
  • paper and a pencil for planning (if they don’t have already)

Before distributing materials allow students time to plan activity on paper. Emphasize that you will not give them extra materials and they need to plan accordingly. Allow groups to build. When groups are ready test structures with heavy items like text books. With about 10-15 min left in class, bring group back together to have each group present their structure and test it in front of the class.

Extensions: – add more weight when testing
– allow students to re-design using even fewer materials
– allow students to re-design using same materials but a wider gap
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One Response to Detective- Civil Engineering

  1. Nazifa Sarawat and I did this activity for our detective engineering unit in Fall 2015 at JQS.

    We chose to split up the activity into two days. On the first day, we emphasized materials and testing. We brought the same materials, as well as straws, spaghetti, and other materials, and tasked the students with testing them to learn about their properties and decide which they wanted to use to build a structure (bridge) the next week.

    The second week of class, we split them into groups of 4 students instead of two. I think this larger group size worked well for some groups, who divided their labor effectively and built really large bridges. However, some groups didn’t do this as well, and some students felt like they weren’t included in the building process. We encouraged each student to plan on paper individually, but then had the groups make a unified plan. This in itself was quite a challenge for almost all groups, however I think it was a good experience to learn how to combine ideas effectively.

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