Project 2

Earthquakes and Boise River Bridge



This project was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant Number 1640228. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Dazhi Yang at or use our Contact Form.


This project-based scientific inquiry project: Earthquake and Boise River Bridge Design is centered on researching different types of bridges, various aspects of earthquakes, and seismic safety features of bridges. In this project, students work in small groups to explore different bridge types, the destructive aspects of an earthquake, and the safety features for bridges that could resist earthquakes. Then students will design an earthquake-tolerant bridge and test their design with an earthquake simulator. To develop computational thinking and an understanding of STEM subjects, students from 4th, 5th and 6th grade will work in small groups of six, with one in-service teacher and one pre-service teacher, twice a week for eight weeks in a community centers after-school program.


Please refer to the weekly activities (such as Week 1 Session 1 in the left sidebar and Resources) for detailed information on how to use this project either in a classroom or an informal setting such as in community centers' after-school programs. The twice weekly sessions were originally designed to be 90 minutes in length, including a 10 minute break in the middle of the session. See photos of prior implementations on the projects' photo pages.


In groups of 3-6, students will research earthquakes and bridges. Then from this research, students will design a bridge that is earthquake resistant. Students will sketch their plans, build, and test their bridges under simulated earthquake conditions.

Subject Content

Engineering, Science, Math, Technology

Learning Objectives

1. Students will explore and investigate how to build a bridge to resist an earthquake.

2. Students will design and build a bridge and test it under simulated earthquake conditions.

Final Products

An assembled bridge; Presentation on their research on earthquakes and bridges

Driving Question

How can we build a strong bridge for the Boise River to resist earthquake forces?

Sample Sub-questions

1. What is a bridge and why do we need it?

2. What are the different types of bridges?

3. How is a bridge designed? (this focuses on design - design a model on a paper or simulated model - the design process - the forces)

4. What is an earthquake?

5. Why does an earthquake occur?

6. What are the damages of an earthquake?

7. What do we do to resist an earthquake?

8. What are the considerations for building a strong bridge?

9. How do we design and build a strong bridge to counter an earthquake for Boise river? (this focuses on the building a bridge as a final product)


1. Explore Boise river and Broadway bridge.

2. Design, build and test a known bridge.

3. Design, build and test a bridge for Boise river.

4. The activities are duplicates with the sample sub-questions

5. The activities are duplicates with the sample sub-questions

6. The activities are duplicates with the sample sub-questions

7. The activities are duplicates with the sample sub-questions

8. The activities are duplicates with the sample sub-questions


1. Formative (for revision purpose): Weekly evaluation of the students on their understanding of the activities completed during the week - both written and oral.(for example rubric and Guided reflection)

2. Summative: Assessment/evaluation on students inquiries at the end of the 8 week project, for example Final Project Presentation.

Tools & Resources

Project learning guide; Laptops; File folders; Graph paper; Pencils; Crayons; Journal/Learning log; Student contract (for project management); Internet connections; Resources on bridges and on earthquakea (resources will be collected and/or created by project team).

Standards Aligned

1. Science: National Science Education Standards (NSES, 1996)

2. Engineering: NEXT Generation Science Standards (NGSS, 2013)

3. Information and Communication Technology: Idaho Content Standards (ICS, 2017)

4. Math: Common Core State Standard (CCSS, 2010)

5. 21st Century Skills: The Four C's (P21, 2002)