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published by the WGBH Educational Foundation
supported by the National Science Foundation
This four-part interactive simulation explores some of the most important forces to be considered in structural engineering. It's a fun way for kids in Grades 4-8 to learn about compression, tension, torque, and shear -- and then apply this knowledge to further explore structural load. In the "Materials Lab" section, they stretch and compress 8 different types of building materials: wood, plastic, aluminum, brick, concrete, reinforced concrete, cast iron, and steel. Last, in the "Shapes Lab", they choose from rectangular, arched, and triangular shapes and test their stability.

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Editor's Note: This resource, part of the "Building Big" science education project, meets a wide variety of national standards. It allows students to apply Newton's Laws in a low-risk and game-like environment.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Applications of Newton's Laws
- General
- Newton's Second Law
= Force, Acceleration
- Newton's Third Law
= Action/Reaction
- Statics of Rigid Bodies
= Center of Gravity
= Static Torque
Other Sciences
- Engineering
- Middle School
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
- Audio/Visual
= Movie/Animation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Activity
- New teachers
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Intended Users:
General Public
Access Rights:
Free access
© 2004 WGBH Educational Foundation
action/reaction, center of mass, compression force, dynamics, earthquake load, force pairs, settlement load, tensile strength, tension force, thermal expansion, thermal load, torque
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created October 4, 2011 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 19, 2020 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
September 30, 2011

Next Generation Science Standards

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Forces and Motion (PS2.A)
  • Each force acts on one particular object and has both strength and a direction. An object at rest typically has multiple forces acting on it, but they add to give zero net force on the object. Forces that do not sum to zero can cause changes in the object's speed or direction of motion. (Boundary: Qualitative and conceptual, but not quantitative addition of forces are used at this level.) (3)
  • For any pair of interacting objects, the force exerted by the first object on the second object is equal in strength to the force that the second object exerts on the first, but in the opposite direction (Newton's third law). (6-8)
Types of Interactions (PS2.B)
  • Objects in contact exert forces on each other. (3)
  • The gravitational force of Earth acting on an object near Earth's surface pulls that object toward the planet's center. (5)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

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)
  • 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, to decrease known risks, and to meet societal demands. (3-5)
Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology (K-12)
  • Knowledge of relevant scientific concepts and research findings is important in engineering. (3-4)
Science is a Human Endeavor (3-12)
  • Science affects everyday life. (3-4)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

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)

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/M1. Design usually requires taking into account not only physical and biological constraints, but also economic, political, social, ethical, and aesthetic ones.
  • 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.
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/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/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.

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/M3. Advances in manufacturing processes can reduce costs and improve products.
  • 6-8: 8B/M5. Efforts to find replacements for existing materials are driven by an interest in finding materials that are cheaper to obtain or produce or that have more desirable properties.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

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

This four-part interactive simulation explores some of the most important forces to be considered in structural engineering. It's a fun way for kids to learn about compression, tension, torque, and shear -- and then apply this knowledge to further explore structural load. They perform virtual stretching and compression of 8 different types of building materials, then choose from rectangular, arched, and triangular shapes and test their stability.

Link to Unit:
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Record Link
AIP Format
(WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2004), WWW Document, (https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfe.bbforces/forces-lab/).
PBS Learning Media: Forces Lab (WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2004), <https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfe.bbforces/forces-lab/>.
APA Format
PBS Learning Media: Forces Lab. (2011, September 30). Retrieved May 26, 2024, from WGBH Educational Foundation: https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfe.bbforces/forces-lab/
Chicago Format
National Science Foundation. PBS Learning Media: Forces Lab. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, September 30, 2011. https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfe.bbforces/forces-lab/ (accessed 26 May 2024).
MLA Format
PBS Learning Media: Forces Lab. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2004. 30 Sep. 2011. National Science Foundation. 26 May 2024 <https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfe.bbforces/forces-lab/>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {PBS Learning Media: Forces Lab}, Publisher = {WGBH Educational Foundation}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {26 May 2024}, Month = {September 30, 2011}, Year = {2004} }
Refer Export Format

%T PBS Learning Media: Forces Lab %D September 30, 2011 %I WGBH Educational Foundation %C Boston %U https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfe.bbforces/forces-lab/ %O application/flash

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D September 30, 2011 %T PBS Learning Media: Forces Lab %I WGBH Educational Foundation %V 2024 %N 26 May 2024 %8 September 30, 2011 %9 application/flash %U https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfe.bbforces/forces-lab/

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PBS Learning Media: Forces Lab:

Is Part Of PBS: Building Big

A link to the full Building Big collection, with additional interactive labs and activities, plus an Educator's Guide.

relation by Caroline Hall
Supplements TryEngineering: Design a Dome

A lab activity for Grades 5-9. Students work on teams to construct and test a dome structure that will support a specified weight on top.

relation by Caroline Hall

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