Building up

Civil Engineering

Program ● Interactive ● Grades 3-8

During the Civil Engineering classes, students use the Engineering Design Process to design, create, test, and refine a balsawood bridge designed to withstand the greatest force. They examine several different types of bridge designs and discover how the forces of tension, compression, bending, torsion, and shear are distributed throughout their structures.

Civil engineering is one of the widest-reaching disciplines in the engineering field. Civil engineers must work cooperatively with architects, local governments, citizens, and other engineers to successfully build large- and small-scale projects. Civil engineers use aspects of physics, mathematics, and computer technology to create plans and drawings that are used by different professionals to build structures.

Other responsibilities of civil engineers include:

  • Supervise the construction of airports, train stations, tunnels, bridges, and other public works projects.
  • Understand the properties of local land formations, as well as water tables and water movement, to minimize the environmental impact of a project.
  • Be familiar with state and federal building codes and regulations.
  • Hold managerial or administrative positions and oversee a team of workers that are responsible for planning and construction.
  • Design structures to resist the impact of natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes/typhoons.
  • Specializing in a particular field, including, but not limited to: geotechnical, structural, hydrological, and transportation.

Bridge The Gap

The Bridge the Gap activity focuses on the challenges engineers face when constructing a bridge with limited materials and funds. Students will attempt to create the strongest bridge that can accommodate a large load over a wide span.

Extension: Bridge The Gap Math Extension

Students will answer questions that help them analyze the designs of their bridges.

Marshmallow Bridges

Marshmallow bridges will challenge the students to think like real civil engineers. This activity will allow children to use their imagination to build a bridge with ease. Students will be able to test their designs without having to glue all the tooth picks together.

This lesson includes Master Level Scaling.   

Note Card Bridge

The Note Card Bridge activity will challenge students to construct a bridge out of a normally flexible material – an index card – and create a navigable span. Teachers can modify this activity to test dead or active loads, or further challenge students to create a span of certain length or height.

Extension: Note Card Bridge Math Extension

This extension can be done as a discussion or on a chalkboard. Students will answer questions regarding supplies used vs supplies remaining for their bridges.

Paper Tower Challenge

During this lesson students will compete to build the tallest paper tower they possibly can. They will need to consider issues such as balance, strength, and efficient use of materials.

Sweet Skyscrapers

During this lesson, students will experiment with different construction techniques to help their building reach for the sky. They will discover how integrating testing throughout the building process helps civil engineers uncover unexpected structural concerns.