How is a thunderstorm created? How do you create a tornado? What makes a volcano erupt? How do you build a structure to withstand an earthquake? Year 6 students recently completed fun yet challenging experiments to answer these questions during their ‘Science Circus’.
Through collaborative learning, students worked together to create a ‘thunderstorm’, ‘tornado’, a ‘volcano’ and a marshmallow model structure strong enough to withstand a simulated earthquake.
Students predicted what they thought would happen in each experiment and documented their reasonings behind their thinking. Their observations were detailed through a labelled diagram, followed by explanations that examined observations against predictions.
Year 6 Teacher, Mr Daniel Zito, outlined the significance of students’ exposure to real-world problems in the classroom. ‘We want them to pose real questions and explore the types of things engineers would explore when they come across real-world problems,’ he said. ‘It’s important that students are able to define the problem and work through the process to find solutions.’
Below is an in-depth look at one of the experiments and a few of the students’ observations.
Testing Model Structures: Jelly Earthquake
Purpose: To design a marshmallow and toothpick ‘building’ strong enough to withstand a simulated earthquake.
– 30 toothpicks
– 30 miniature marshmallows
– Earthquake journal
– One baking tray with a layer of jelly
1. Explore the materials available to you in order to find strong designs
2. Construct a building structure using all 30 marshmallows
3. Place the structure into the jelly tray
4. Tap the tray on the bottom to simulate compression waves or primary waves of an earthquake. Record the damage done to your structure.
5. Shake the tray back and forth in a shearing motion to simulate S-waves or secondary waves. Record the damage done to your structure.
6. Evaluate the success of your design in surviving the earthquake. What worked and what didn’t?
7. Redesign your structure and restest it against the earthquake as per steps 2-5.
8. Repeat step 7 until design if fully successful.
“The materials are quite difficult to use. Good teamwork is how we’re going to find the solution!. We’ve already come up with multiple ideas for the structure to withstand an ‘earthquake’.” – Maya
“It doesn’t have to be tall. We could put marshmallows in between the toothpicks to create a sturdy structure.” – Annabelle
“The marshmallows provide some flexibility, which helps when there is an ‘earthquake’.” – August