Week 1

Session 1

Guiding Question

  • How can we make sand stand tall?


  • What are the characteristics of sand?

  • What is reinforced sand?


  • Describe the characteristics of sand.

  • Explain what sand reinforcement is.

CT Components

Data Collection

  • Students collect data on different forms of life.


  • Observing the demonstration with paper and sand and defining sand reinforcement.


5-10 minutes

A facilitator explains the overall Soil Project:

What is the Soil Project about?

Groups learn about soil and sand and how sand can be made strong enough to uphold the weight of a building.


Sand is used because it is the most cost efficient construction material compared to brick and concrete. Who are you going to work with? In small groups with a 6:1 teacher ratio.

What is expected from you?

While guiding small teams of students within your groups (two groups of three per educator), you will work together to facilitate the understanding of different classifications of soil (gravel, sand, silt, and clay) and how to make each mixture stronger using different reinforcement materials and techniques. Together as students and facilitators, we will learn a vast amount of scientific knowledge regarding soil. We, as as team of researchers, pre-service teachers, and educators, will use our combination of knowledge as he help facilitate students’ understanding of material science and how it plays a role in civil engineering and how exciting STEM can be.

There will a prize for the winning team!

Team-building Activity

10 minutes

Before we start to work together as a team, we need to get to know each other! Let’s introduce the team members and do some team building activities within students or within students and adults. For data purposes, we’d like students to introduce their name, grade, and why they wanted to be a part of the program.

Introduction of the Problem Solving Process

5 minutes

This is a good time to introduce the Problem Solving Process Diagram to students. Briefly explain the diagram and let the students know that they will refer to this diagram frequently to guide them in the process that leads to the final competition.

Entry Event

10-15 minutes

The facilitator leads students to work individually as they interact with sand. Each student will have a cup of sand and should be encouraged to touch, pour, and examine it. The facilitator could ask, “What are the physical properties of sands that you can observe? Take a minute and observe, and then describe what you see, smell, and feel.”

Allow students to explore the sand. The facilitator could ask, “Do you think sand could be strong enough to build a wall that you could stand on? Or would it fall flat?” “Why and why not?” The facilitator will introduce the topic of reinforced sand.

Live Demo of Reinforced Sand

20-30 minutes

A BSU facilitator will demonstrate the reinforced sand. The facilitator might ask the following questions to guide students’ understanding of sand.

  • What are the physical properties of sand? Is it hard, is it soft? Does it feel a little pokey? Has anyone ever been to a beach before where there’s sand? What happens when you walk on it? How about when you sit in it?

  • Has anyone built a sand castle before? If you have, did it fall apart or stick together? How did you get it to stick together?

  • Is sand strong enough to build a house, a wall?

  • Can sand stand tall to form a shape like a cone or a cylinder?

  • How can we make sand stand tall?

Procedure Demonstration

  1. Slide the face board into place.

  2. Place the first sheet of paper so that the second crease is flush with the angle between the bottom and the front of the box (Figure 4-3 a below). That is, place the 2.5 inches of paper between the second crease and the end of the sheet vertically against the face board.

  3. Pour in and level a one-inch layer of sand (lift, in civil engineering parlance; Figure 4-3 b below).

  4. Then fold the reinforcing paper down over the leveled sand (Figure 4-3 c below).

Figure 4-3 a

Figure 4-3 b

Figure 4-3 c

5. Place the second reinforcing sheet in the same manner as the first, followed by the addition of sand.

6. Continue the process until you have placed about ten lifts. The last flap of paper is tucked down into the top sand lift or covered with a little extra sand to hold it in place.

7. At this stage, students can hypothesize results (whether the sand will spill out when the front panel is removed) and the facilitator can tally answers on the board to see who guessed correctly later.

8. Remove the face board. The wall will stand (Figure 4-4 below).

Figure 4-4




9. At this stage, students can estimate how much weight the paper wall can support (note: at least 200 pounds is possible).

10. Invite each student to stand on the wall (with the help of an adult).

Credit: Chapter 4 in Elton, D. J., & Elton, D. J. (2015). Grounded!: Amazing classroom demonstrations in soil mechanics.

Printable directions found here: A Retaining Wall Made of Paper.


  • Copier paper, 8.5 inches - 11 inches

  • Custom box with removable front panel

  • 70 lbs of dry sand

    • Be sure the sand is at least air dry. Paper is hygroscopic and loses most of its strength when wet. Use dry sand.

  • Volunteers

Whole Group Discussion

The facilitator will lead a discussion on the demonstration with the following questions. The facilitator will also briefly introduce the final competition at this time.

What are some physical properties of sand (that we could visually observe)?

Is sand strong enough to build a house?

Can sand stand tall (if we want to use sand to build a tall cone or cylinder)?

How can we make sand stand tall?

Final Competition Objectives

The main objective of the final competition is to design and build a reinforced soil wall that can stand tall without deflection and carry a load of 5 kg using some reinforcing materials provided.

The facilitator will tell students that more details about the final competition will come later in the program.

End of Session Reflection and Debriefing

5-10 minutes

Teacher briefly explains the computational thinking (CT) skill embedded in the Problem Solving Process Diagram. Using the problem solving process diagram, the teacher will ask students to identify what kind of problem solving skills/process/computational thinking they used in this session and explain how they used it. The following are some sample questions that can guide the debrief.

  • What did I learn today?

  • What problem solving skills/processes or CT components in this diagram did I use today?

  • How did I use the problem solving skills/processes/CT components?