Unit Forces:
Stress and Strain

An illustration of a bench with the words 'compression' over the top and 'tension' along the underside
Compression and tension
Copyright © Image from How Stuff Works, Robert Lamb and Michael Morrissey, https://science.howstuffworks.com/engineering/civil/bridge2.htm Accessed August 4, 2020


This unit introduces students to the forces of stress and strain. Students design and build model buildings and beams, which furthers their understanding of the effects of compression and tension forces in relation to structure strength. Students explore the psychological concepts of stress and stress management in an associated literacy activity.

Engineering Connection

Engineers consider the forces of stress and strain in selecting suitable designs and materials to create safe and durable products and processes. For example, civil engineers consider tension and compression forces when designing any type of structure to ensure its safety and stability. Material strength testing determines which substances engineers should use to create a wide-range of items from building products like siding and shingles, to recreation equipment like ski gear and running shoes, to high-tech devices such as dental implants and heart pacemakers, and more.


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Unit Schedule

Suggested order of activities:

More Curriculum Like This

Middle School Lesson
Stressed and Strained

Students are introduced to the concepts of stress and strain with examples that illustrate the characteristics and importance of these forces in our everyday lives. They explore the factors that affect stress, why engineers need to know about it, and the ways engineers describe the strength of mater...

Middle School Lesson
Strong as the Weakest Link

To introduce the two types of stress that materials undergo — compression and tension — students examine compressive and tensile forces and learn about bridges and skyscrapers. They construct their own building structure using marshmallows and spaghetti to see which structure can hold the most weigh...

Middle School Lesson
Strength of Materials

Students learn about the variety of materials used by engineers in the design and construction of modern bridges. They also find out about the material properties important to bridge construction and consider the advantages and disadvantages of steel and concrete as common bridge-building materials ...


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Last modified: December 8, 2020

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