Project 3

How can we make sand stand tall?



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.


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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 4-6, students will explore and investigate how sand can be made strong enough to uphold the weight of a building. Then they will build a reinforced soil wall and present on their experience and new found knowledge.

Subject Content

Engineering, Science, Math, Computer Science, Technology

Learning Objectives

1. Students will explore and investigate how sand can be made strong enough to uphold the weight of a building.

Final Products

A reinforced soil wall that can stand tall without deflection, group presentation on their experience and newfound knowledge

Driving Question

How can we make sand stand tall?

Sample Sub-questions

1. What are the physical properties of sand?

2. How can we tell the differences between sand types?

3. What is reinforced?

4. What is reinforcement sand?

5. How does sand support buildings?

6. Where should we place the reinforcement? Top, bottom, or all over?

7. What are the positive and negative aspects of using plastic sticks, cloth, wire mesh, paper as reinforcement materials?

8. What materials and placement work best for reinforcing sand?


1. Explain soil reinforcement

2. Identify different types of sand and observe the sizes and shapes of the soils

3. Explore how density and friction relate to sand strength

4. Test how the number of layers and the amount of reinforcement in each layer affect the strength of sand

5. Test how different reinforcement materials affect the strength of sand

6. Test the best placement for reinforcement

7. Test the different combination of materials to reinforce sand

8. Design a reinforced wall that can stand tall without deflection


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

2. Summative: Assessment/evaluation on students learning at the end of the 8 weeks project, for example the Reinforced Soil Wall and Presentations.

Tools & Resources

Project website, other resources specified in the lesson plans.

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)