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Can it withstand the shake table?

A test for structural soundness inspires some sturdy creations

East Grand Rapids Ashley Ophoff described the thinking behind construction of the foot-tall, teepee-like structure she designed with classmate Kaitlyn Tungo. 

The Breton Downs Elementary fourth-grader pointed out plastic straw beams, marshmallow footings and a second level made of paper where miniature people could safely stand. 

“We designed it so it would rock back and forth but not fall,” Ashley said. And, because construction over-runs weren’t encouraged but smart material use was, “We also made a pizza with the leftover clay.”

Completed structures sit outside Cheryl Radecki’s classroom

This was the second year teacher Cheryl Radecki’s fourth-grade science students were tasked with constructing a model that would help reduce the impact of a natural hazard — in this case, an earthquake.

It was part of a unit where students learn how the shape of the land changes through natural processes and hazards, and how humans can take steps to reduce their impact. Students worked over two days in pairs or groups of three to construct their structures, and also were given a cost sheet to monitor their expenses.

Every design was tested for 10 seconds on a “shake table” made by Radecki’s husband.

Follow-up questions focused on how their structure changed from their original design and why, and what students would do differently.

Alden Roberts and Jackson Brandow designed their structure after the Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taiwan. Like the real thing, Alden and Jackson’s model also included a damper — in their case, a pendulum — aimed at counter-balancing the impacts of wind and seismic activity.

“I’m pretty sure that the only thing that stayed in ours from the rough draft to this final (design) were the pendulum and the base,” Alden said. 

In the end, “it didn’t shake one bit, but the pendulum fell off in the very 10th second,” Jackson said.

Learning, Collaboration, Cooperation

Radecki said the variety of structure construction “really showed off their thinking.” She was impressed to see students modify their plans with little to no guidance. 

“That’s really what it’s about in fourth grade, just developing ideas and letting them reflect on what worked and what didn’t,” she said.

The Empire State Building-inspired structure created by Amri Campbell, Cooper Fouch and Tupper Gorman illustrated how ideas — and roles — develop.

Cooper and Tupper provided most of the hands-on construction work, Cooper said. “I really like to work with LEGOs,” he added. 

Amri gravitated to more of a project manager role. As Cooper pointed out, her experience with sewing and cross-stitch proved highly valuable “with the poking parts” where toothpick supports would best be utilized.

Radecki said their partnership shows the project “lends itself to so many levels of learning, collaboration and cooperation that’s critical as they learn to work together.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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