Name of Activity Civil Engineering: Helping A Town With A Drought
Author STOMP
Keywords civil engineering, drought, build, bridge, irrigation, well
Subject Building/EDP
Grade Level 5
Time 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.
Procedure 1. The first hour will be used to introduce the Engineering Design Process and have the students start the first steps of it– exploring the problem and planning/designing the solution. Present to them the attached powerpoint to introduce the EDP (it uses information from this article: 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
  2. Well
    1. must pull water in a bucket up to four feet high
    2. must build well basin as well as pulley system
  3. Bridge
    1. must span 1-2 feet over two desks
    2. must hold up toy cars
    3. must be able to open and close without having two halves be touched

Also remind them that they will have a budget for the materials they use. At the end of the class, collect from them each group’s final design for their solution and their final materials list.   2. The next couple of hours of this activity will be spent with the students building their designed solution to the problem with their group. Come back providing them with all of the materials that were on their lists. Inform the students that they can purchase any extra materials they need with the coins you will provide them (we used gold LEGO coins). Write the prices of each material on the board so they can decide what to spend their coins on. The list of prices we used is below: Budget: Each group gets 50 gold Prices for materials beyond what was on their first list:

  • Duct tape 1 coin/6 inches of tape
  • Masking tape 1 coin/6 inches of tape
  • String coins 1 coin/1 foot of string
  • Straws 1 coin/5 straws
  • Popsicle sticks 1 coin/5 sticks
  • Paper clips 1 coin/3 paper clips
  • Rubber bands 1 coin/5 rubber bands
  • Cardboard 2 coin/1 square foot
  • Plastic cups 2 coins/1 cup
  • Cardboard Toilet Paper Rolls 2 coins/5 rolls
  • Manila Folders 1 coin/1 folder

If you decide to, you can also provide them with a budget tracker worksheet for the students to keep track of how much they were spending and what materials they purchased, using the worksheet attached. (We found that we did not have enough time for this in this activity). Also write on the board specific requirements for each project:

  • Bridge
    • must hold up as much weight as possible (toy cars, lego bricks, pennies, etc.)
    • must be able to open and close without having two halves be touched
    • must span a minimum of a foot and a half between two desks
    • most weight wins
  • Well
    • three-part system: bucket, basin, and pulley system (to raise bucket)
    • must pull bucket up to four feet high
    • must hold up as much weight as possible
    • most weight wins
  • Irrigation System
    • must have one source of water anywhere on the carpet
    • must flow evenly to three other locations on the carpet
    • the three other locations must each be at least three feet away

3. The last hour or two of this activity is the testing and presentation of the solution each group created for their problem. Each group fills out the first part of the attached worksheet called “CivilEngineeringPresentationFinal.” The students then use those worksheets as a guideline to present their project and show the class the structure they created. They will then test the structure in front of the class according to their project (weight and mobility for the bridge, pulling up heavy “water” for the well, and spreading “water” (small beads) to three different locations for the irrigation system. Each group will then assess what worked and what didn’t, and how they think they could improve their final project. Once all of the groups have presented, have the students fill out the remainder of the final worksheet (the section on testing). 4. Finally, conclude the unit by discussing with the students what they have now learned about the engineering design process as it relates to their projects and what they learned over the course of the activity. Furthermore, tell the students about how their projects relate to real-life solutions that are built to solve these three problems (drawbridges, wells, and irrigation systems).

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