Making @ School: Earthquakes and Housing

At the culmination of a month-long 3rd and 4th grade Expedition on Natural Occurrences, the Creativity Lab developed two making projects based on Housing and Civil Engineering. Collaborating with 3/4th grade teachers, the Lab created two design challenges focusing on earthquakes and tsunamis, natural occurrences relevant to the Bay Area and California.

The first project, which focused on earthquakes, was done in a couple of sessions over one week. To start, the students were introduced to the professions of civil engineers and architects, and were shown real-life examples of earthquake-proof structures (a little inspiration goes a long way!). They were then prompted to create their own buildings out of cardboard, and test them on small, temporary “shake-tables”. These were made out of sheets of plywood and PVC tubing, to replicate the earthquake shaking tables used by engineers for seismic testing.

The second project, on tsunamis, was shorter in length, but the students still showed their enthusiasm and resourcefulness in the amount of time given.

After the projects were completed, students were given reflection-sheets to document their thought processes and choices when constructing their buildings. The purpose of the sheets is – given the time constraint – to have students document design choices (i.e. materials, height, shape etc), have them point out any difficulties or doubts, and reflect on any mistakes and how they would amend them, given the opportunity. In an ideal world, there would be enough time within a project to allow for prototyping, iterating, amending, and creating a final product.

At our sister school, Lodestar, we will reprise a version of this activity later on this year for a Science Expedition, tailoring it to a 7th grade class, expanding and elaborating on it. So far, the Making, Art, & Design team has prototyped one shake table out of posterboard powered by rotary motors with weights. Later on, for the Expedition, they will be looking into a more realistic and permanent one, which will be constructed out of plywood, springs, and powered by an attached drill.

Together the two schools will create a comprehensive project guide on sustainable housing and natural occurrences. This guide can hopefully be used by other teachers interested in incorporating making in their classes – showing how it is possible to support learning with an integrated activity that empowers students and make real-life, relevant connections.

Keep an eye out on our Project Guides page for new upcoming content!


Anna Milada Grossi is currently an Americorps VISTA Project Coordinator, serving through MakerEd at Lighthouse Community Public School. She is assisting in the Making, Art, Design and Lighthouse Creativity Lab Programs.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *