earthquake stem challenge

Activities & Days Out / 1 November, 2020 / Nanny Anita

Earthquake STEM Challenge

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In our latest STEM project we have been learning about earthquakes and how to make buildings earthquake resistant. This is a subject that we have talked about before but we have never done an activity around it.

We started by talking about how the earth is like a massive jigsaw and how these pieces (or plates) move, and when they move they cause an earthquake on the surface. Next we talked about  what sort of buildings do you think they would find in an earthquake zone. Both children said that there would be smaller buildings and were very surprised to find out that in places like California and Japan that they do have sky scrappers. I showed them a couple of videos about how engineers are trying to build these earthquake resistant buildings and then gave them some play dough and Jenga bricks to design their own buildings.

You will need:

  • Building blocks
  • Play dough (optional)
  • A tray

When they build their structure get them to do it on a tray, this will make it easier for them to create the earthquake later one.

EC getting very involved.

EC getting very involved.

You don’t have to use play dough, but EC and YC got really into the idea that this was going to help secure their building together.

YC's building

YC’s building

Before we set of our earthquake we made predictions about what we thought was going to happen. Some of the questions we asked were:

  • What do you think will happen?
  • Will your building survive?
  • Will there be any damage to it?

When you are ready shake the tray both back and forth and side to side. You could start out gentle and then slowly increase the power to see if it would survive a smaller earthquake. EC and YC took it in turns to knock each others constructions over; they didn’t go for the starting slowly approach, they went straight for the kill (I may have helped)!

All that was left of YC's and my building.

All that was left of YC’s and my building.


The results

None of us were surprised that YC’s was completely knocked over, but EC was shocked that his fell totally apart. Afterwards we discussed why it happened and what we could have done to build a safer structure. EC decided that because he didn’t actually attach his building to the surface, it meant that it could slip and slide everywhere. I thought that was a rather good observation from him and excellent use of critical thinking.

All of us loved doing this activity, especially the destroying part, although trying to get the play dough off the bricks was very time consuming.

Other resources:

Explaining what an earthquake is video

Can you build an earthquake proof building video

Two boys explaining why buildings fall down during earthquakes video

Pin for later:

earthquake stem challenge: can you build an earthquake resistant building

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