Students learn about how engineers design and build shake tables to test the ability of buildings to withstand the various types of seismic waves generated by earthquakes. Just like engineers, students design and build shake tables to test their own model buildings made of toothpicks and mini marshmallows. Once students are satisfied with the performance of their buildings, they put them through a one-minute simulated earthquake challenge.
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).
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.
Click on the standard groupings to explore this hierarchy as it applies to this document.
- Colorado: Science
- a. Compare and contrast different types of waves (Grade 8)  ...show
- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- b. Solve unit rate problems including those involving unit pricing and constant speed. For example, if it took 7 hours to mow 4 lawns, then at that rate, how many lawns could be mowed in 35 hours? At what rate were lawns being mowed? (Grade 6)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- H. Modeling, testing, evaluating, and modifying are used to transform ideas into practical solutions. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Explain the four different types of seismic waves produced by earthquakes.
- Describe the purpose of shake tables and how engineers use them.
- 1 shoebox
- 1 wooden board (sized to fit in the bottom of the shoebox with room to move in all directions)
- 10 marbles
- 20 Popsicle sticks
- 10 rubber bands
- string, ~50 cm to 1m in length
- hot glue gun and 3 glue sticks
- 1 sandwich bag of mini marshmallows
- toothpicks, a handful or unlimited, depending on materials limitations imposed by teacher
- Shake It Up! Activity Worksheet, one per person
- duct tape
- masking tape
- scissors and/or box cutters
- Build a shake table that uses a variable speed drill to move the table; follow instructions at John Lahr's Shake Table website: http://jclahr.com/science/earth_science/shake/index.html; materials include: plywood, wooden blocks, foam core board, hollow metal tubes, hot glue, metal rods (welding rods), rod with u-shaped bend, wire, strapping tape (or piece of rubber), fasteners, and a variable speed drill with a speed control unit.
- Alternatively, if you do not want to build the drill-powered shake table, have the class select the best shake table from all the groups and use that one for the one-minute earthquake challenge testing.
- Alternatively, the engineering colleges at some universities make available their shake tables for use by outside student groups for academic purposes.
- The depth at which the earthquake took place (the closer to the surface, the greater the amplitude of the wave)
- The intensity of the earthquake (earthquakes with higher Richter scale ratings produce more intense seismic waves)
- The composition of the Earth's crust
- P-waves (or primary waves, a type of body wave)
- S-waves (or secondary waves, a type of body wave)
- Love waves (a type of surface wave)
- Rayleigh waves (a type of surface wave)
|A seismic wave that travels through the Earth rather than across its surface.|
|A series of steps used by engineering teams to guide them as they solve problems: define the problem, come up with ideas (brainstorming), select the most promising design, plan and communicate the design, create and test the design, and evaluate and revise the design. Also called the design-build-test loop.|
|A surface seismic wave that cause horizontal shifting of the Earth during an earthquake.|
|(noun) A representation of something for imitation, comparison or analysis, often on a different scale. (verb) To simulate, make or construct something to help visualize or learn about something else (such as a product, process or system).|
|A seismic pressure wave that travel through the body of the Earth. The fastest of all seismic waves.|
|A surface seismic wave generated by the interaction of P-waves and S-waves at the surface of the Earth that move with a rolling motion.|
|A shear or transverse body seismic wave, with motion perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation.|
|A wave of energy that travels through the Earth as a result of an earthquake.|
|A device for shaking structural models or building components. The movement simulates the ground motions of earthquakes. Also called a shaking table.|
|Imitating the behavior of some situation or process, especially for the purpose of study or experimental testing.|
|A seismic wave that travels across the surface of the Earth as opposed to through it. Surface waves usually have larger amplitudes and longer wavelengths than body waves, and they travel more slowly than body waves.|
- Gather materials and make copies of the Shake It Up! Activity Worksheet.
- Build the teacher's shake table that uses a variable speed drill to create the shaking movement. Or, if you do not want to build the drill-powered shake table, at the end, have the class select the best shake table from all the groups and use that one for the earthquake challenge.
- Show students the available materials. Point out that this project follows the steps of the engineering design process: understand the need (requirements, objective), brainstorm different design solutions, select the most promising design, plan (strategy, drawings, measurements, materials), create and test, and improve to make the best solution possible.
- Identify a few design requirements:
- For the shake tables, a wooden board must serve as a base that can move around to simulate the ground movement during an earthquake. The goal is to create shake tables that move in ways that resemble the different types of seismic waves. For example, movement could be the back and forth motion of a P-wave or a more destructive rocking type movement representing a surface wave. Also design a way to control the shake table from outside of the box (so your hands are not in the box where the model building will be located).
- The model buildings must be made only from toothpicks and marshmallows, and be at least one-foot (.3 m) tall. (Consider imposing a materials limitation to make the project more challenging.) Its base will be taped to the wooden board for testing.
- Hand out the worksheets to students. Give them time to independently design and draw their shake tables and buildings, as instructed on page 1 of the worksheet. If possible, assign this as homework the night before so students have a chance to develop their own ideas before coming together in teams to determine the most promising designs.
- Divide the class into groups of three or four students each.
- Ask students in each group to brainstorm ideas, starting by sharing their individual ideas. Have each team choose one design to construct for its shake table. In the spirit of true brainstorming, encourage teams to combine and compromise their ideas to come up with creative solutions. (Review brainstorming guidelines at http://www.cs.unb.ca/profs/fritz/cs3503/storm35.htm.)
- Provide students with materials and give them time to construct their shake tables—a minimum of 30 minutes for construction is suggested.
- Once shake tables are completed, have groups brainstorm ideas for their model building structures that use only mini marshmallows and toothpicks as the materials. Require that the buildings be at least one-foot (.3 m) tall. Have teams each agree upon a final design that they will construct.
- Give students time to construct their model buildings, and then use their own shake tables to test and modify (improve) the designs. Point out that the testing-improving-testing process is an important part of the bigger engineering design process. That's how weaknesses are discovered and problems solved—before you have an actual earthquake! Emphasize that in the upcoming earthquake challenge they will have only one chance to put their final building designs through a "real earthquake" test to see if they survive, so they must be certain that their buildings are survivable. What works? What doesn't? What could be improved? Test, test, test!
- Earthquake Challenge: Once teams have one-foot tall structures and are satisfied with their stability and robustness, put the structures through a one-minute simulated earthquake challenge in which every team uses the same shaker table—either the teacher's shake table (that uses a variable speed drill to shake the table), or the best of the teams' shake tables, as agreed-upon by the class.
- Have one student use a stopwatch to time how long each building survives the earthquake simulation. Remind groups to be ready to record the length of time their buildings lasted, the end building heights, as well as observations about how the building structures behaved under the shaking conditions. Have students watch all team tests to gather observations that they will use to finish the worksheet questions.
- Failure: If the building collapses or any part of the building besides its base touches the shake table, consider it failed, and note the time and stop the shake table. The building is not earthquake-safe for people. Once the shake table is off, measure the height of the building.
- Success: If the building survives for a full minute and is still one-foot tall, consider it a success—the group has engineered a solution to the challenge and is "hired" to design real buildings for their community. Record measurements and observations.
- Have students complete the concluding worksheet questions, incorporating what they learned from observing their own and other groups' model building behavior under seismic stress. Have them draw conclusions about the relationship between the appearance of the structure and its building strategies, and its performance. If time permits, lead a class discussion using the concluding questions (see the Investigating Questions section) so students can hear each others' opinions and ideas.
- Review safety precautions for using glue guns and box cutters.
- Which types of seismic waves did your shake table imitate (simulate)? Explain the movements and speeds. Explain how it does this.
- Describe what happens to your building when you test it on your shake table.
- How long did your building last through the "earthquake"?
- Describe what happened to your building while it was going through the "earthquake."
- Based on what you noticed from your group and other groups, which designs and strategies worked the best?
- Why do you think this particular type of design worked the best?
- Bonus question: How did the ability of your shake table to accurately represent seismic waves help in the evolution of your building design?
- Bonus question: Think back and describe in your own words the steps of the engineering design process that you went through.
- For lower grades or younger students, skip the team construction of shake tables altogether. Give students the challenge of building a structure that is at least 1 foot tall with only mini marshmallows and toothpicks, and only have them test on a common shake table provided by the teacher. Allow students to create more than one structure so they have the opportunity to radically alter their designs and recognize building strategies that work best. Also, provide different materials, such as gum drops, pipe cleaners or dry spaghetti, so they can test to see if some materials work better than others.
- For upper grades or older students, offer more advanced materials for the team shake table construction, such as foam core board, wood, saws, drills and drill bits, and drills to power them. If desired, make the objective of the activity to create shake tables that most accurately represent a given seismic wave type or one that proves to be the most destructive . To test which shake table is the most destructive, have students each follow a set of instructions to build the same building. Then time how long it takes for each shake table to destroy the building, with the goal to have the lowest time.
Additional Multimedia Support
World's Largest Earthquake Shake Table Test in Japan. Simpson Strong-Tie Company, Inc. Accessed April 20, 2011. (Article and a five-minute video show a full-scale seven-story wood-framed condominium tower being tested on world's largest shake table in July 2009, where it survived a 7.5 magnitude earthquake simulation with minor damage) http://www.strongtie.com/about/research/capstone.html?source=hpnav
Carleigh Samson, Stephanie Rivale, Denise W. Carlson
© 2010 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: February 9, 2016