Students conduct Internet research to investigate the purpose and current functioning status of some of the largest dams throughout the world. They investigate the success or failure of eight dams and complete a worksheet. While researching the dams, they also gain an understanding of the scale of these structures by recording and comparing their reservoir capacities. Students come to understand that dams, like all engineered structures, have a finite lifespan and require ongoing maintenance and evaluation for their usefulness.
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 Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).
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Click on the standard groupings to explore this hierarchy as it applies to this document.
- Colorado: Math
- a. Analyze and describe patterns and relationships using words, tables, graphs, symbols, and technology (Grade 5)  ...show
- Colorado: Science
- a. Analyze and interpret data identifying ways Earth's surface is constantly changing through a variety of processes and forces such as plate tectonics, erosion, deposition, solar influences, climate, and human activity (Grade 5)  ...show
- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- 3. Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories. Solve one- and two-step "how many more" and "how many less" problems using information presented in scaled bar graphs. For example, draw a bar graph in which each square in the bar graph might represent 5 pets. (Grade 3)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- Compare dam reservoir volumes by ranking.
- Know that dams have a finite lifespan.
- Know that engineers are responsible for the safety and reliability of dams.
- Name at least five notable dams.
- computer with Internet connection
- pencil or pen
- Does the Dam Pass or Fail? Worksheet
|coffer dam:||A temporary dam used to control a river or reservoir while constructing or removing the primary dam.|
|lifespan:||The length of time something, such as a dam, is expected to last.|
|maintenance:||Any work needed to keep an object or machine functional.|
|spillway:||Part of a dam that can release surplus flow without causing damage to the dam.|
Before the Activity
With the Students
- Get students set up and oriented on the computers.
- Make sure that students find the correct website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/dam/
- Hand out the worksheets and have students fill them out while researching the dams.
- For students who finish early, direct them to continue their research by answering bonus question #3.
- Conclude with a class discussion to review students' activity worksheet data and reservoir capacity rankings. What were you able to find on the Internet? (See additional discussion questions in the Assessment section.)
- Have students who completed the bonus question share with the class what they learned about actual cases of dam removals around the country.
Activity Embedded Assessment
- Did everyone rank the dams in the same order? (Compare students' answers.)
- Did any of these dams fail? (South Fork Dam and Folsom Dam) Why? (Collapsed due to debris-clogged spillway preventing controlled water release during rainstorm; broken spillway gate due to design flaw.) What can we learn from these failures? (Perform regular dam inspection and maintenance; improve the design of dams with roll-up spillway doors.)
- Were any of these dams removed? (Edwards Dam) Why? (Blocked fish from reaching spawning grounds upstream; supplied very little hydroelectric power compared to other Maine sources of electricity.) What happened to the river in the years after the dam was removed? (Fish and healthy ecosystem returned to Kennebec River, sunken logs are being salvaged and recycled, many other dams have since been removed for same reasons.)
- What other observations did you make when learning about all these dams?
- What new questions do you have?
- By looking at the data you collected how old are these dams? What are the lifespans of the dams we have researched? (Edwards Dam was 162 years old when it was removed; South Fork Dam was 37 years old when it collapsed; others 18 to 70+ years old and still operating.)
- Who is responsible for the safety and reliability of dams? (Answer: Engineers)
- Tell me which dam was of most interest to you and why?
- For lower grades, have students work in pairs to complete the activity worksheet.
- For upper grades, have students research other dam failures (such as the Teton Dam) or dam removals on the Internet. Suggested search terms: "dam failure" and "dam removal." Or, assign students to complete the projects described in the Activity Extensions section.
Additional Multimedia Support
- List of Dam Failures, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dam_failure&oldid=319455970.
- Historic Dam Failures in the US, ASDSO, http://www.damsafety.org/news/?p=94bdfdd0-633a-4fa2-bc39-0083c58d14ba.
- Examples of recent dam failures and their implications, Cracking Dams, http://www.simscience.org/cracks/intermediate/failures.html.
- Dams Slated for Removal in 1999-2008, American Rivers, http://act.americanrivers.org/site/DocServer/DAMS_SLATED_FOR_REMOVAL_IN_2008.pdf?docID=8501 and http://www.sejarchive.org/pub/Dam-Removal-Summary1999-2007.pdf.
- Clearinghouse for Dam Removal Information (search the database), http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/WRCA/CDRI/.
- Major dam removal projects and dams that have been discussed for removal, Dam Removal, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dam_removal&oldid=317134283.
- Fort Halifax Dam removed to open fish passage, Natural Resources Council of Maine, http://www.nrcm.org/fort_halifax_removal.asp.
- The Long Road to a 2009 Dam Removal, WaterWatch, Oregon, http://www.waterwatch.org/programs/freeing-the-rogue-river/savage-rapids-dam-removal.
Building Big: All About Dams. Public Broadcasting System Online. 2000-01. WGBH Educational Foundation. Accessed October 14, 2009. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/dam/index.html
Dams and Dam Removal. 2001-07. Department of Natural Resources, Michigan. Accessed October 14, 2009. http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10364_27415---,00.html
Ladd, Chris. Published July 23, 2009. Dam It All. Good.Is Magazine. Accessed October 14, 2009. (Good recap article on the state of dams, present and future, in the US, including failures, removals and river recovery.) http://www.good.is/post/dam-it-all/
Nearly 800 Dams Already Removed across US. Posted November 26, 2008. The Society of Environmental Journalists, Jenkintown, PA. Accessed October 14, 2009. http://www.sej.org/publications/tipsheet/nearly-800-dams-already-removed-across-us
Jeff Lyng, Kristin Field, Denali Lander, Megan Podlogar, Denise W. Carlson
© 2008 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: April 24, 2015