Hands-on Activity Do as the Romans:
Construct an Aqueduct!

Quick Look

Grade Level: 7 (6-8)

Time Required: 3 hours 15 minutes

(can be split into different sessions)

Expendable Cost/Group: US $4.00

Group Size: 3

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Science and Technology

NGSS Performance Expectations:

NGSS Three Dimensional Triangle


Students work with specified materials to create aqueduct components that can transport two liters of water across a short distance in the classroom. The design challenge is to create an aqueduct that can supply Aqueductis, a (hypothetical) Roman city, with clean water for private homes, public baths and fountains as well as crop irrigation.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

A photograph shows the Pont du Gard, a double-high, multi-arched long structure—an ancient aqueduct.
Students do as the Romans and construct aqueducts.
Copyright © 2007 Emanuele, Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pont_du_Gard_Oct_2007.jpg

Engineering Connection

Aqueducts are majestic and graceful ancient structures and engineering marvels that survive to this day. Since water is scarce in many parts of the world, and populations continue to grow, civil and agricultural engineers design systems that deliver water, natural gas and other resources from far away to the people who need them. Some factors that engineers consider when designing water transport systems are the project cost oand whether it is efficient enough to get the job done without wasting resources.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Understand the history of the Roman Empire.
  • Identify building techniques that were used by the Romans.
  • Apply creative design methods.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8)

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

Alignment agreement:

The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions.

Alignment agreement:

All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.

Alignment agreement:

The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions.

Alignment agreement:

  • Requirements are the parameters placed on the development of a product or system. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Meeting societal expectations is the driving force behind the acceptance and use of products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Make two-dimensional and three-dimensional representations of the designed solution. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • The selection of designs for structures is based on factors such as building laws and codes, style, convenience, cost, climate, and function. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Explain how knowledge gained from other content areas affects the development of technological products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Analyze how different technological systems often interact with economic, environmental, and social systems. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Engage in a research and development process to simulate how inventions and innovations have evolved through systematic tests and refinements. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Verify how specialization of function has been at the heart of many technological improvements. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Refine design solutions to address criteria and constraints. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Develop innovative products and systems that solve problems and extend capabilities based on individual or collective needs and wants. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Apply the technology and engineering design process. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Compare how different technologies involve different sets of processes. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Analyze how an invention or innovation was influenced by its historical context. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Describe and explain parts of a structure, e.g., foundation, flooring, decking, wall, roofing systems. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Identify and compare examples of transportation systems and devices that operate on or in each of the following: land, air, water, and space. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Identify and describe three subsystems of a transportation vehicle or device, i.e., structural, propulsion, guidance, suspension, control, and support. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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Materials List

  • thin plastic drop cloth
  • empty 2-liter soda bottle and cap
  • bucket
  • duct tape
  • clear vinyl tubing with 3/8-inch outside diameter
  • cardboard
  • 2-3 tables
  • chair
  • blocks or books
  • 2 liters water
  • scissors
  • electric drill or screwdriver

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/construct_an_aqueduct] to print or download.


Are you familiar with aqueducts? Aqueducts are one of the wonders of the Roman Empire. These graceful structures are not only majestic, but are ancient engineering marvels that survive to this day to transport water long distances.

(Set the mood for the activity by describing this engineering challenge to the class.) You are the chief water engineer of the Roman Empire. Your challenge is to build an aqueduct that is able to supply the Roman city of Aqueductis with clean water for use in private homes, public baths and fountains, and crop irrigation.

If you succeed, the citizens of Aqueductis will be able drink clean water and bathe and work happily. If you fail, there's no telling what the citizens will do. The best design is the one that uses the fewest materials and delivers water continuously with no spills and little leftover water.



By introducing various ideas and themes from the social studies curriculum on Ancient Rome and incorporating this modeling project, this becomes a favorite interdisciplinary activity for middle school students.

Recommended Resources

Before the Activity

  • Gather materials and make copies of the worksheets and other attachments.
  • Drill 3/8-inch holes in the tops of 2-liter soda bottle caps for the tubing to fit into.
  • Set up the "course" that the water will transport through. For example, from a table to a bucket on the floor 5 feet away, with an obstacle of books between.

With the Students

  1. Set the mood by presenting to the class the Introduction/Motivation section.
  2. Assign the Roman Aqueduct Manual as homework reading.
  3. Log on to the NOVA website and give each student time to play "Construct a Roman Aqueduct" in the classroom: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/lostempires/roman/aqueduct.html
  4. Describe the challenge to the class and hand out the materials. Clarify some project requirements:
    • Students must deliver the water from the bottle at point A to the "city" at point C. Since neither the sheet plastic or the tubing is self-supporting, the aqueduct must go through point B, the bottom of the "valley" (the floor).
    • The water flow should go through the plastic tubing from the bottle to the bucket on the floor, with lost water represented by unsupported tubing. Water is precious, so any that escapes the system represents a costly mistake in engineering, construction and/or operation.
  1. After completion of the challenge, modify the course to make it a little harder. For example, add a line of blocks across the table perpendicular to the flow as a hurdle or low hill that the water must be delivered over.
  2. Different elements may be built along the aqueduct such as a covered trench, tunnel, pressurized pipe, wall or arcade.
  3. Explain that certain criteria must be met. These include:
    • A limit on the amount of water lost (dripped). A good place to start is a cup of water lost maximum (~15% of a full 2-liter bottle). This value may be varied, but the idea is to give students a performance limit.
    • A limit on the amount of material available. Keep the materials given to each group consistent. Material (monetary) constraints are very important in engineering.
    • A time limit for construction. Give students roughly 45 minutes to complete their first iteration.
    • A time limit on the flow of water. If the water does not flow quickly enough, the citizens may not have a sufficient supply. Set this at 30 seconds initially for the full 2 liters, and vary accordingly.
    • (optional additional constraints) Budget (assign play money to groups for material), maximum height drop/gain (though this is likely established by the "terrain"), and ability to move water with sediment (sand) in it.


aqueduct: A pipeline specifically built to transport water.

chorobate: A surveying instrument that was used by engineers when building aqueducts. It was used to measure the profile of the land in order to determine where the water needs to flow to reach its destination.


Use the attached rubric to grade student work. Criteria include testing of knowledge and concepts, design and construction of aqueduct, and operation of aqueduct.

Investigating Questions

  • How did the Roman Empire supply its urban citizens with water?
  • What techniques can be used if mountains and valleys exist between the water source and the city?
  • How is today's water system similar or different from that of the Romans?
  • What are some major constraints for this project? Do you think these existed for the Romans as well?


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Gaffney, Dennis. "Secrets of Lost Empires." February 2000. NOVA (a five-part NOVA series) Accessed 2004. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/lostempires/roman/aqueduct.html

Simmon, Barbara Brooks and Thomas R. Wellnitz. © 2000. Prentice Hall Science Explorer: Earth's Water by Pearson Education, Inc., publishing as Prentice Hall (Portions of the activity from this source; used by permission)


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Supporting Program

Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Last modified: September 24, 2019

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