Civil engineers design structures such as buildings, dams, highways and bridges. Student teams explore the field of engineering by making bridges using spaghetti as their primary building material. Then they test their bridges to see how much weight they can carry before breaking.
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.
- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- 4. Display numerical data in plots on a number line, including dot plots, histograms, and box plots. (Grade 6)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- C. Many inventions and innovations have evolved using slow and methodical processes of tests and refinements. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- E. Design is a creative planning process that leads to useful products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- F. There is no perfect design. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- G. Requirements for design are made up of criteria and constraints. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- F. Design involves a set of steps, which can be performed in different sequences and repeated as needed. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- H. Modeling, testing, evaluating, and modifying are used to transform ideas into practical solutions. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- H. Apply a design process to solve problems in and beyond the laboratory-classroom. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- J. Make two-dimensional and three-dimensional representations of the designed solution. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Massachusetts: Science
- 1.2 Identify and explain appropriate measuring tools, hand tools, and power tools used to hold, lift, carry, fasten, and separate, and explain their safe and proper use. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 1.3 Identify and explain the safe and proper use of measuring tools, hand tools, and machines (e.g., band saw, drill press, sander, hammer, screwdriver, pliers, tape measure, screws, nails, and other mechanical fasteners) needed to construct a prototype of an engineering design. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 1.1 Given a design task, identify appropriate materials (e.g., wood, paper, plastic, aggregates, ceramics, metals, solvents, adhesives) based on specific properties and characteristics (e.g., strength, hardness, and flexibility). (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 2.2 Demonstrate methods of representing solutions to a design problem, e.g., sketches, orthographic projections, multiview drawings. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 2.5 Explain how such design features as size, shape, weight, function, and cost limitations would affect the construction of a given prototype. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 5.1 Describe and explain parts of a structure, e.g., foundation, flooring, decking, wall, roofing systems. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 5.2 Identify and describe three major types of bridges (e.g., arch, beam, and suspension) and their appropriate uses (e.g., site, span, resources, and load). (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 1.1 Identify and explain the steps of the engineering design process: identify the problem, research the problem, develop possible solutions, select the best possible solution(s), construct prototypes and/or models, test and evaluate, communicate the solutions, and redesign. (Grades 9 - 12)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- 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)  ...show
- 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
- To create a design method.
- Group work and discussion.
- Building techniques that civil engineers use.
- 1 pound dry spaghetti
- glue gun
- glue sticks, 1 package
- various weights from 5 to 50 pounds
- large tub (or newspapers to spread out), to make clean-up easier
- 2 tables (place 1 foot apart)
- metal strip (to serve as the road)
- chain (to hold the weights)
- Show students the available "building materials," including the metal strip "road," chain and weights that will be used for testing.
- Divide the class into teams of students.
- Have teams draw their bridge designs on paper. Make sure that bridges are long enough to span a specified distance between two tables.
- Create the bridge using hot glue to hold it together.
- When the bridges are complete, test their strength. Place a bridge so it spans across the gap between two tables. Place a tub or spread-out newspapers under the bridge to catch falling debris and make clean-up easier.
- Put the strip of metal on the bridge (as the road). Then apply weights on the chain, starting with 5 pounds and working up to 50 pounds, or until the bridge breaks.
- Conclude with a class discussion to compare results and draw conclusions. Use the Investigating Questions as a concluding assessment.
- Be careful not to get burned from the hot glue and hot glue guns.
- Wear safety glasses.
- Beware of falling weights.
- What happened when you added more weights? What does the bridge look like?
- Does adding more height to the bridge make it stronger?
- What are some ways to improve your design?
© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Worcester Polytechnic Institute
K-12 Outreach Office, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Last modified: February 9, 2016