Drought Engineering

Name of Activity

Civil Engineering: Helping A Town With A Drought




civil engineering, drought, build, bridge, irrigation, well



Grade Level



4+ Hours Total

Brief Description

This civil engineering unit includes three long-term projects that are all designed to help a town, Porterville, CA, with their drought. Each group of students picks one project to work on for the entirety of the unit. The three options are building a drawbridge, a well, and an irrigation system. However, these projects are not introduced to the students as a drawbridge, a well, and an irrigation system, but rather as three separate problems that students think critically about and then explore possible solutions. It is revealed once the activity is complete how the structures the students have created exist in the real world.

Lesson Objectives:

– have students think critically about a presented problem and come up with their own solutions

– let students explore each aspect of the engineering design process by first exploring the problem, then designing the solution, then creating their solution, testing it until it works, and lastly sharing their solution by presenting it to their peers

– have further practice with building stable structures and being creative in designs

Materials Needed:

(materials will somewhat depend on what the students submit as their materials lists)

– duct tape

– masking tape

– cardboard toilet paper rolls

– cardboard

– string

– straws

– popsicle sticks

– rubber bands

– plastic bottles

– paint sticks

– small beads (for testing)

– pulleys

– plastic cups

– hole puncher

– manila folders

– rulers

Preparation and Set Up:

– make copies of worksheets for each student

– divide students into groups of 4-5

Knowledge Background

Know the basics of how a well, irrigation system, and draw bridge work.


1. The first hour will be used to introduce the Engineering Design Process and have the students start the first steps of itРexploring the problem and planning/designing the solution. Present to them the attached powerpoint to introduce the EDP (it uses information from this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/03/us/california-drought-tulare-county.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A6%22%7D&_r=0) and then divide them up according to which of the three projects in the powerpoint they want to pursue (groups of 4-5 students). Ask students to complete the initial design worksheet, also attached. Give the students the attached simplistic map of Porterville for reference. Have the students work first individually on these design worksheets and then spend the rest of class working with their group. Provide them with these requirements:

  1. Irrigation
    1. must go from one side of the carpet to three others

  • Well
    1. must pull water in a bucket up to four feet high
    2. must build well basin as well as pulley system

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