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published by the WGBH Educational Foundation
content provider: the Public Broadcasting Service
This large collection of labs, activities, and interactive tutorials allows kids to explore large structures and what it takes to build them. They will investigate bridges, dams, tunnels, skyscrapers, and domes. The interactivity of the site is its hallmark feature, with simulation-based activities to explore forces, test the strength of materials, learn about structural load, and see how shape affects strength. The site includes a "Wonders of the World Databank" to search for big structures with specific features. An Educator's Guide provides content standards, lesson ideas, and additional resources.

Editor's Note: This resource provides a framework for integrating physics, engineering, materials science, and geography. The original Building Big trademark is associated with a 5-part PBS series, available at the pbs.org online shop for an additional cost.

Please note that this resource requires Flash.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Applications of Newton's Laws
- Gravity
- Statics of Rigid Bodies
= Stresses
- Middle School
- High School
- Elementary School
- Informal Education
- Collection
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Interactive Simulation
= Tutorial
- Dataset
= Database
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
= Movie/Animation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Activity
- New teachers
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Intended Users:
General Public
Access Rights:
Limited free access
Materials on the Building Big website are available at no cost; the 5-part DVD series "Building Big" is available for purchase.
© 2000 WGBH Education Foundation
compression force, engineering simulations, shear, tensile strength, tension force, thermal expansion, torque, torsion
Record Creator:
Metadata instance created October 8, 2011 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
March 20, 2014 by Caroline Hall
Last Update
when Cataloged:
May 17, 2009

Next Generation Science Standards

Engineering Design (3-5-ETS1)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (3-5)
  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (3-5-ETS1-1)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Defining Engineering Problems (ETS1.A)
  • Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account. (4)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Cause and Effect (K-12)
  • Cause and effect relationships are routinely identified and used to explain change. (3-5)
Systems and System Models (K-12)
  • A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions. (3-5)
  • Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions. (6-8)
Structure and Function (K-12)
  • The shape and stability of structures of natural and designed objects are related to their function(s). (K-2)
  • Structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used. (6-8)
Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World (K-12)
  • Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits (e.g., better artificial limbs), decrease known risks (e.g., seatbelts in cars), and meet societal demands (e.g., cell phones). (3)
  • Over time, people's needs and wants change, as do their demands for new and improved technologies. (4)
  • The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions. Thus technology use varies from region to region and over time. (6-8)
Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology (K-12)
  • Scientific discoveries about the natural world can often lead to new and improved technologies, which are developed through the engineering design process. (3)
  • Knowledge of relevant scientific concepts and research findings is important in engineering. (3-4)
  • Engineering advances have led to important discoveries in virtually every field of science, and scientific discoveries have led to the development of entire industries and engineered systems. (6-8)
Science is a Human Endeavor (3-12)
  • Science affects everyday life. (3-4)
  • Advances in technology influence the progress of science and science has influenced advances in technology. (6-8)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Asking Questions and Defining Problems (K-12)
  • Asking questions and defining problems in grades 3–5 builds on grades K–2 experiences and progresses to specifying qualitative relationships. (3-5)
    • Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (3-5)
Developing and Using Models (K-12)
  • Modeling in 3–5 builds on K–2 experiences and progresses to building and revising simple models and using models to represent events and design solutions. (3-5)
    • Use models to describe phenomena. (5)
Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information (K-12)
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information in 3–5 builds on K–2 experiences and progresses to evaluating the merit and accuracy of ideas and methods. (3-5)
    • Obtain and combine information from books and/or other reliable media to explain phenomena or solutions to a design problem. (5)

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

3. The Nature of Technology

3B. Design and Systems
  • 3-5: 3B/E2. Even a good design may fail. Sometimes steps can be taken ahead of time to reduce the likelihood of failure, but it cannot be entirely eliminated.
  • 6-8: 3B/M4a. Systems fail because they have faulty or poorly matched parts, are used in ways that exceed what was intended by the design, or were poorly designed to begin with.
  • 6-8: 3B/M4b. The most common ways to prevent failure are pretesting of parts and procedures, overdesign, and redundancy.
3C. Issues in Technology
  • 3-5: 3C/E4. Factors such as cost, safety, appearance, environmental impact, and what will happen if the solution fails must be considered in technological design.
  • 6-8: 3C/M3. Throughout history, people have carried out impressive technological feats, some of which would be hard to duplicate today even with modern tools. The purposes served by these achievements have sometimes been practical, sometimes ceremonial.
  • 6-8: 3C/M4. Technology is largely responsible for the great revolutions in agriculture, manufacturing, sanitation and medicine, warfare, transportation, information processing, and communications that have radically changed how people live and work.
  • 6-8: 3C/M8. Scientific laws, engineering principles, properties of materials, and construction techniques must be taken into account in designing engineering solutions to problems.

4. The Physical Setting

4D. The Structure of Matter
  • 3-5: 4D/E1a. Heating and cooling can cause changes in the properties of materials, but not all materials respond the same way to being heated and cooled.
  • 3-5: 4D/E6. All materials have certain physical properties, such as strength, hardness, flexibility, durability, resistance to water and fire, and ease of conducting heat.
4F. Motion
  • 3-5: 4F/E1bc. The greater the force is, the greater the change in motion will be. The more massive an object is, the less effect a given force will have.
  • 6-8: 4F/M3a. An unbalanced force acting on an object changes its speed or direction of motion, or both.
  • 9-12: 4F/H4. Whenever one thing exerts a force on another, an equal amount of force is exerted back on it.
4G. Forces of Nature
  • 3-5: 4G/E1. The earth's gravity pulls any object on or near the earth toward it without touching it.

8. The Designed World

8B. Materials and Manufacturing
  • 3-5: 8B/E2. Humans have produced a wide variety of materials, such as steel, plastic, and nylon, that do not appear in nature.
  • 6-8: 8B/M1. The choice of materials for a job depends on their properties.
  • 6-8: 8B/M6. Some materials, such as plastics, are synthesized in chemical reactions that link atoms together in long chains. Plastics can be designed to have a variety of different properties for a variety of uses.
  • 9-12: 8B/H1. Manufacturing processes have been changed by improved tools and techniques based on more thorough scientific understanding, increases in the forces that can be applied and the temperatures that can be reached, and the availability of electronic controls that make operations occur more rapidly and consistently.
  • 9-12: 8B/H4. Increased knowledge of the properties of particular molecular structures helps in the design and synthesis of new materials for special purposes.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Dynamics: Forces and Motion
Unit Title: Applications of Newton's Laws

This large collection of labs, activities, and interactive tutorials allows kids to explore large structures and what it takes to build them. They will investigate bridges, dams, tunnels, skyscrapers, and domes. The interactivity of the site is its hallmark feature, with simulation-based activities to explore forces, test the strength of materials, learn about structural load, and see how shape affects strength.

Link to Unit:
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Record Link
AIP Format
(WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2000), WWW Document, (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/).
PBS: Building Big, (WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2000), <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/>.
APA Format
PBS: Building Big. (2009, May 17). Retrieved August 18, 2017, from WGBH Educational Foundation: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/
Chicago Format
Public Broadcasting Service. PBS: Building Big. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, May 17, 2009. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/ (accessed 18 August 2017).
MLA Format
PBS: Building Big. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2000. 17 May 2009. Public Broadcasting Service. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {PBS: Building Big}, Publisher = {WGBH Educational Foundation}, Volume = {2017}, Number = {18 August 2017}, Month = {May 17, 2009}, Year = {2000} }
Refer Export Format

%T PBS: Building Big
%D May 17, 2009
%I WGBH Educational Foundation
%C Boston
%U http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/
%O application/flash

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%D May 17, 2009
%T PBS: Building Big
%I WGBH Educational Foundation
%V 2017
%N 18 August 2017
%8 May 17, 2009
%9 application/flash
%U http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/

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PBS: Building Big:

Contains PBS Learning Media: Forces Lab

A four-part interactive simulation for Grades 4-8 that explores the most important forces considered by structural engineers in designing buildings.

relation by Caroline Hall

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