Structures

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Structures: Kindergarten through 5th grade Science Media Collections have been created to help educators find the best PBS resources to enrich learning experiences in the classroom. In this ‘Structures’ collection, find videos, interactives and lesson plans to examine different types of bridges, explore concepts of tension and compression, and discover various shapes used to make strong structures.

  • Building Big | Arch Bridge

    The Romans were some of the most important innovators in structural design. Of their contributions, the arch and the bridges they built using an elegant shape stand out as the most creative and enduring. In this video segment adapted from Building Big, series host David Macaulay describes the forces and design features that give arches their strength.

    Grades: 3-12
  • Bridge Building Club

    At Exploris Middle school's Bridge Building club in Raleigh, NC, kids design, build, and then test balsa wood bridges. More than once, their team has placed first in the annual Statewide Model Bridge Building Competition. Can these champs do it again?

    Grades: 4-6
  • The Bridge Challenge

    Only after first considering such factors as site (location and conditions), purpose, and, of course, budget can an engineer decide the most appropriate size, shape, and building material for a bridge. This interactive activity from the Building Big website challenges users to identify which bridge design is best for each of four different locations in the growing fictional community of Craggy Rock.

    Grades: 3-12
  • Clifton Suspension Bridge

    This video segment from Building Big highlights the Clifton Suspension Bridge, one of the earliest of its kind. Though it was completed in 1864, when pedestrians, animals, and horse-drawn carriages were its main forms of traffic, its iron chain-link cables and stone piers today carry four million cars and other vehicles a year.

    Grades: 3-12
  • Columns: Finding the Strongest Shape

    The shapes of a structure and its parts are often as important as the materials those parts are made of. In this video segment adapted from ZOOM, members of the cast bend and fold sheets of paper to see which shape is strongest and can best support the weight of a heavy book. This resource is useful for introducing components of Engineering Design (ETS) from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to grade K-8 students.

    Grades: K-8
  • Columns: Hillary's Neighborhood

    In this video segment from ZOOM, Hillary, from Randolph, MA, proves she knows a thing or two about columns. She identifies their structural components, explains how and where they are used, and encourages viewers to look around their own communities for columns. If they're anything like her town, columns are everywhere!

    Grades: K-5
  • ZOOM | Designing a Paper Bridge

    The activities presented in this video segment adapted from ZOOM demonstrate the properties of several bridge designs modeled using just a sheet of paper, some books, and lots of pennies.

    Grades: 3-8
  • Design Squad: Suspension Bridge

    As is true with any engineered structure—whether it's a skyscraper, a tunnel, or a dome—different bridge designs manage the forces of tension and compression in different ways. In this video segment adapted from Design Squad—a PBS TV series featuring high school contestants tackling engineering challenges—a team of students competes in a bridge design and construction challenge that requires them to build a suspension bridge, which uses long sagging cables and towers to support the weight of a suspended deck. The rules of the challenge prohibit them from using power tools and force them to use natural resources. Thus, they use hand tools and tie ropes to trees and wooden posts.

    Grades: 5-12
  • Design Squad | Truss Bridge

    Have you ever wondered how different bridge designs manage the forces of tension and compression? In this video segment adapted from Design Squad, a team of students competes in a bridge design and construction challenge without the aid of power tools. The team constructs a king post bridge, a type of truss bridge that gets its strength from ultra-rigid triangles that will not easily bend or twist.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Building Big | Firth of Forth Cantilever Bridge

    Cantilever bridges like the Firth of Forth Railway Bridge may look complicated, but the principle on which they're built is very simple. In this video segment from Building Big: Bridges, series host and narrator David Macaulay describes the forces at work in a cantilever bridge and explains how the bridge's design uses some of these forces to create a very strong and stable span.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Forces Lab

    Large structures must be able to resist many different kinds of forces. A structure's own weight and other loads it experiences squeeze, stretch, bend, and twist the structure -- sometimes all at once. This interactive activity from the Building Big Web site describes some of the most important forces a structural engineer must consider and illustrates the damage these forces can cause.

    Grades: 3-8
  • Investigating a Suspension Bridge

    Beam bridges are certainly simple to build, but compared to many other types of bridges, they're not very strong. By supporting the bridge deck of a typical beam bridge with a system of cables and transferring the deck's weight to heavy columns at either end, a beam bridge becomes a much stronger suspension bridge. In this video segment adapted from ZOOM, the ZOOM cast builds a suspension bridge using cardboard, rope, string, tape, and two chairs.

    Grades: 3-8
  • It's Cool to Be a Civil Engineer

    Civil engineers take pride in the fact that their work contributes to society, helping people get places quickly and safely, and providing them with vital resources such as clean water and electricity whenever they need them. In this video segment, adapted from Thinking Big, Building Small, some civil engineers talk about the creativity and logic that go into their work.
    Grades: 3-8
  • Building Big | Loads Lab

    Large structures, like bridges, buildings, and dams, must endure tremendous forces, starting with their own weight. Of course, added to this are externally applied forces, including vehicular and pedestrian traffic, furniture and equipment, and natural elements like wind, snow, and rain. This interactive activity from the Building Big website describes some of the forces, or loads, that structures endure and illustrates the damaging effects these forces sometimes have.

    Grades: 3-8

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