Testing Model Structures: Jell-O Earthquake in the Classroom

TeachEngineering: authors Jessica Todd, Melissa Straten, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Demonstration , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Model , Simulation
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



Students investigate which building types are structured to withstand earthquake damage. They take on the role of engineers as they design their own earthquake resistant buildings, then test them in a simulated earthquake activity. Students also develop an appreciation for the job of engineers who need to know about earthquakes and their causes in order to design resistant buildings. This lesson is one of several in the "Earthquakes Rock" unit provided by the TeachEngineering site. The unit "url" listed here is not being reviewed for the Performance Expectation listed. It is offered as a supplemental concept and lesson background aid for teachers. https://www.teachengineering.org/view_activity.php?url=collection/cub_/activities/cub_natdis/cub_natdis_lesson03.xml

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

4-ESS3-2 Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans.

Clarification Statement: Examples of solutions could include designing an earthquake resistant building and improving monitoring of volcanic activity.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students could view photos or videos of earthquake damage. The impact of the earthquake's damage could also be heightened with before/after photos so that the importance of "quake safe" buildings could be stressed.Teacher could establish criteria for formative assessment of students' prior knowledge. Students could create a list of building features that they feel would lessen the impact of an earthquake. Reasons for their choices could be listed on a class chart, with students working as a whole class to rate the importance of their choices.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
While students are limited to the use of provided classroom materials, they might brainstorm ideas for other appropriate building materials. Students could build structures at home, or bring materials to class for use in individual or group settings. While Step 9 of the lesson allows students to redesign as many times as class allows in order to modify or improve their structures, students might benefit from a class discussion about which structures worked or did not. They could then use this information to plan for structure revision.Students could also view before and after pictures of earthquake damage, comparing buildings which remained standing with the least damage to those which did not survive. Students could discuss possible reasons for the damage, observing structure (height, etc.) of building.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students could discuss how natural processes create earthquake hazards.. Students may understand the concept of plate tectonics, and realize that the "shaking" of the earth creates damage. The teacher may also use the general lesson included in "Earthquakes Rock" (see related resource listing in description section) to demonstrate how earthquakes cause waves of movement in the ground. P and S waves can be demonstrated in the related activity.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students could list types of changes they expected to see in their structures before they tested them, then illustrate/photograph/video changes in their structures, after they complete the simulations. They could reflect on these changes and their causes in a post-lesson science journal entry. They might include details of how their structures were created (for example, height, shape, etc.) as well as which types of building materials used might have affected their resistance.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This design challenge and earthquake simulation allow students to examine ways in which buildings can be designed, then redesigned to limit the impact of an earthquake on human habitation.

  • Instructional Supports: The activity extensions ( Ex. examine school building for earthquake readiness), journal reflections (creation of an observation, question, and what was learned chart), as well as the detailed sequence of events in the lesson allow for more flexibility in student enrichment activities.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Student progress can be considered as strong in some respects. Students are required to reflect in their journals in detail, monitoring their own progress in design and redesign. However, modifications for English Language Learners or students with writing difficulties are not addressed.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -