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This is a lesson plan that explores principles in civil engineering and architecture, developed to help teachers integrate engineering practices in the classroom. Students work in teams to design and build a small dome frame out of everyday items that can hold a weight on top without collapsing. The driving question of the lesson: How do civil engineers design and build domes, taking into consideration the forces of compression and tension?

The lesson follows a module format that includes objectives and learner outcomes, problem sets, student guides, recommended reading, illustrated procedures, worksheets, and background information about the engineering connections.
Editor's Note: Teachers: This lab can be adapted to a wide variety of student levels, from upper elementary to high school. Try combining it with interactive digital labs on forces and structural materials.  See Related Materials for links to two editor-recommended web resources from PBS Learning Media.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Newton's First Law
= Inertia at Rest
- Statics of Rigid Bodies
= Equilibrium
= Stresses
Education Practices
- Active Learning
Other Sciences
- Engineering
- Middle School
- High School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Laboratory
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Student Guide
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Laboratory
- Assessment
- New teachers
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© 2010 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
applied physics, building structures, compression, engineering activity, engineering lab, engineering lessons, structural engineering, tension
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created July 30, 2012 by Gnana Subramaniam
Record Updated:
August 10, 2020 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
December 4, 2010

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)
  • Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved. (3-5-ETS1-3)

Engineering Design (MS-ETS1)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (6-8)
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (MS-ETS1-2)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Forces and Motion (PS2.A)
  • 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)
Defining and Delimiting 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. (3-5)
Developing Possible Solutions (ETS1.B)
  • At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs. (3-5)
  • Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved. (3-5)
  • A solution needs to be tested, and then modified on the basis of the test results in order to improve it. There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet criteria and constraints of a problem. (6-8)
  • Models of all kinds are important for testing solutions. (6-8)
Optimizing the Design Solution (ETS1.C)
  • Different solutions need to be tested in order to determine which of them best solves the problem, given the criteria and the constraints. (3-5)
  • The iterative process of testing the most promising solutions and modifying what is proposed on the basis of the test results leads to greater refinement and ultimately to an optimal solution. (6-8)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Systems and System Models (K-12)
  • Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions. (6-8)

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

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
  • 9-12: 4F/H4. Whenever one thing exerts a force on another, an equal amount of force is exerted back on it.

8. The Designed World

8B. Materials and Manufacturing
  • 6-8: 8B/M2. Manufacturing usually involves a series of steps, such as designing a product, obtaining and preparing raw materials, processing the materials mechanically or chemically, and assembling the product. All steps may occur at a single location or may occur at different locations.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 3-5: 11B/E3. A model of something is similar to, but not exactly like, the thing being modeled. Some models are physically similar to what they are representing, but others are not.
  • 9-12: 11B/H5. The behavior of a physical model cannot ever be expected to represent the full-scale phenomenon with complete accuracy, not even in the limited set of characteristics being studied. The inappropriateness of a model may be related to differences between the model and what is being modeled.

12. Habits of Mind

12D. Communication Skills
  • 6-8: 12D/M8. Explain a scientific idea to someone else, checking understanding and responding to questions.
  • 6-8: 12D/M9. Prepare a visual presentation to aid in explaining procedures or ideas.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

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

Kids explore civil engineering and architecture as they design and build a small dome frame that can withstand a load of 120 grams on top without collapsing. Editor's Note: For a great 3-day unit that brings in concepts of compression and tension, blend this lesson with the "Teachers' Domain Forces Lab" and the PBS Building Big digital resources in Activities directly below.

Link to Unit:
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AIP Format
(Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2010), WWW Document, (https://tryengineering.org/teacher/design-dome/).
TryEngineering: Design a Dome (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2010), <https://tryengineering.org/teacher/design-dome/>.
APA Format
TryEngineering: Design a Dome. (2010, December 4). Retrieved June 21, 2024, from Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: https://tryengineering.org/teacher/design-dome/
Chicago Format
International Business Machines. TryEngineering: Design a Dome. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, December 4, 2010. https://tryengineering.org/teacher/design-dome/ (accessed 21 June 2024).
MLA Format
TryEngineering: Design a Dome. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2010. 4 Dec. 2010. International Business Machines. 21 June 2024 <https://tryengineering.org/teacher/design-dome/>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {TryEngineering: Design a Dome}, Publisher = {Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {21 June 2024}, Month = {December 4, 2010}, Year = {2010} }
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%T TryEngineering: Design a Dome %D December 4, 2010 %I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers %U https://tryengineering.org/teacher/design-dome/ %O application/pdf

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%0 Electronic Source %D December 4, 2010 %T TryEngineering: Design a Dome %I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers %V 2024 %N 21 June 2024 %8 December 4, 2010 %9 application/pdf %U https://tryengineering.org/teacher/design-dome/

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TryEngineering: Design a Dome:

Is Supplemented By PBS Learning Media: Forces Lab

A four-part interactive simulation that explores the forces to be considered in structural engineering: compression, tension, torque, and shear.  Appropriate for Grades 4-9.

relation by Caroline Hall
Same topic as PBS Building Big: All About Domes

Explore the basics of domes with an interactive "Materials Lab" and a databank of information about 10 of the world's most famous dome structures.

relation by Caroline Hall

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