Building Bridges in Earthquake Country: From the Past to the Present

byLisa A. Ernst

In order for students to be motivated and concerned for their community, I have designed an integrated curriculum unit called, "Building Bridges in Earthquake Country: From the Past to the Present" to be taught to sixth grade students. In the Bay Area there are numerous bridges that are the key to the economic growth, transportation, and cultural diversity. In a given day in the Bay Area, an individual can expect to travel over at least two to three bridges. Over time, many geologists have stated, "Earthquakes do not kill people, but buildings do". The centerpiece of the unit is the connection of the structural design of bridges being built in Earthquake Country. In order for the students to apply their knowledge, the integrated unit includes the content areas of Earth Science, Ancient History, Language Arts, Technology, Art and Physical Science. There are five goals in this unit. The first goal in this unit is for the student to use the scientific method as well as an inquiry based labs to decide the structural design of bridges being built in the Bay Area. The second goal is the building of a bridge to be placed on a shake table to interact with an earthquake. The third goal is for students to role-play and apply an active approach in the decision process of building bridges in Earthquake Country. The fourth goal is for the students to use technology to build a bridge, to withstand a simulated earthquake, with epicenters located on the San Andreas or the Hayward Fault. The final goal is for the students to summarize their knowledge as well as their application of studying bridges in Earthquake Country with a poster presentation.

As an educator, the labs and the activities are designed to be station driven, but the lessons can be used in a small group or a whole group setting. The teaching strategies as well as the modifications that are addressed in this unit, can apply to a special needs student, the gifted student, as well as the English language learner in the classroom. Through the exposure to the content, along with an integrated curriculum unit, which includes a variety of labs, technology, and project-based activities, the students will be inspired to be an active participant in the development of structures in Earthquake Country.

(Developed for Earth Science and Ancient History, grade 6; recommended for Science, upper Elementary and Middle School grades 5-8)

Comments (2)

    Lisa A. Ernst (Alice Fong Yu Alternative Elementary School, San Francisco, CA)
    Subject taught: Language Arts, Earth Science, Social Stu, Grade: 6
    Revisions to this Unit
    As the original author of this unit, I would like to inform the reader of two new areas of interest. First of all, knowing that I had wide variety of labs and activities, I needed to locate funding. I turned to Donors Choose. This funding is open to teachers all across the nation. I submitted a grant using the above title of this unit and received over 600.00. This amount covered books on bridges, clay, blocks, etc. Second of all I added an art component to this unit. Working with my art teacher, she and were able to guide the students in groups to design, and build bridges out of clay. They were fired in the kiln and glazed. Two of the bridges were submitted to the SFUSD art show under project based learning, and the others were auctioned off at our school Gala.
    Lisa A Ernst (Alice Fong Yu K-8, San Francicso, CA)
    Subject taught: Science/LA/SStudies/STEAM, Grade: 6
    As the the author of this specific project
    Some updates:
    Now aligned to the Common Core and the NGSS.
    Awarded the Sylvia Shugrue from NSTA on this unit in 2014.
    Donors Choose funding, which enabled this unit to be integrated into a Makerspace. Which contains, a 3D printer, 3D pens, and hand tools to make model bridges.

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