TKMS Science Students Shake Things Up in Class




Thornapple Kellogg Middle School science students worked in teams to engineer and construct balsa wood structures with three floors that could withstand earthquake forces.

Each team had the same materials and specified dimensions for their towers. What was up to them was how they braced the structures and the three floors on each tower.

The goal was simple: Follow the specifications and make a structure that could withstand the force of an earthquake.

Each tower was put to the test on an earthquake-simulating device. The simulator had varying speeds, so it could replicate an earthquake at different intensity levels. Although it only shook the structures side to side, a real earthquake also can move in other directions.

“We kind of ran out of wood pieces,” said Wandell of his team’s structure.

One side had no braces because the team failed to properly calculate how much wood they needed for the bracing they were doing.

“It’s hard. You have to figure everything out and be precise with all your measurements,” said Noah Kriekaard.

Wyatt Helzer said the lesson taught him how difficult it is to be a structural engineer.

“It’s not something I’m going to do,” he said.

Adrienne Wright, Amelia Craven, Alexis Van Horn and Kyla Lowing worked meticulously building their structure, saying they needed more time.

“You have to check every measurement like five times,” Wright said.

Davis said the lesson gave students a chance to work on problem-solving skills and collaboration. They shared ideas and talked about what  would work best.

“They’re not engineers, but it gives them a chance to see how things are built and how structures have to be reinforced,” Davis said.

The project was the culmination of a unit of study on earthquakes.

Aubrey Evans said she liked the challenge.

“It’s very architectural. I like to build things,” she said.

“Hopefully we’re good. It’s hard making sure all the sides are the same and the supports are good so the weight is dispersed evenly on the floors,” Kriekaard said.

Paige Zellmer, Ruby Finnie and Alex Archambault concentrated as they glued their structure together, taking extra time to make certain their measurements were accurate.

“We just kind of decided this would be the best way to brace and support it,” Zellmer said. “It’s a real test of what we can do. I think it will do pretty good, as long as we can get it done — we hope.”