In this inquiry-based exploration, students will learn about stability through hands-on activities, media content, case study and a final project. The overall purpose is to have students gain a deeper understanding on what makes a structure (natural or human-designed) stable from its foundation to the materials that are used. In the final investigation, students will research at least one natural disaster and design a structure that should be able to withstand it. Please note that this project encompasses more of the overall expectations and big themes associated with this strand of the Grade7 Science & Technology curriculum, it is not meant as a replacement to other types of hands-on activities and lessons that the teacher may choose to use in their classroom. Elementary teachers often have more than just Science on their timetables, so teachers are encouraged to find ways to incorporate aspects of this strand into other curriculum areas. As well, this is a great exploration for the students and a good foundation of the Science concepts for the teacher with perhaps not a specialist background in the subject itself.

Authors Michael Frankfort, Danny Ho and James Dark With Special Thanks To Adam Murray, Denny Chen and Ethan Chu

Grade Level/Course Code: Gr.7 Science & Technology

Strand(s) and Unit(s): Understanding Structures & Mechanisms – Form & Function

Inquiry Focus: Structures, Stability, Forces, Designing, Buildings, Mass Structure, Frame Structure, Shell Structure, Base, Lower/Higher, Centre of Gravity, Heavy/Light, Symmetrical/Asymmetrical, Tower of Pisa, Middle Ages, Campanile, Structural Failure, Engineers, Engineering, Foundation, Failure by Torsion, Bending, Fatigue, Safety, Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Natural Disaster, Internal & External Forces


What does it mean to be stable?

What is the connection between shape of a structure and its stability?

Compare & contrast stable vs. unstable

Stability vs. Culture

What is an engineer? How does it relate to stability?

Stability of structures

How to survive a natural disaster?



Overall timeline for this exploration is 10-15 working periods in class depending on the length of the instructional periods at school. Recommend to work on this exploration over the course of 3-4 weeks. Consideration to be given depending on the number of students in the class and per group for the final project as well as any accommodations/modifications that would be required for any students with exceptionalities and/or English Language Learners.


Big Idea: Stability of structures


Overall Expectations:

Overall Expectation 1:  Analyse personal, social, economic, and environmental factors that need to be considered in designing and building structures and devices.

Overall Expectation 2:  Demonstrate an understanding of the relationships between structural forms and the forces that act on and within them.


Specific Expectations:

Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment

1.1 - Evaluate the importance for individuals, society, the economy, and the environment of factors that should be considered in designing and building structures and devices to meet specific needs.

Developing Investigation and Communication Skills

2.2 - Design, construct, and use physical models to investigate the effect of various forces on structures.

2.3 - Investigate the factors that determine the ability of a structure to support a load.

2.4 - Use technological problem-solving skills to determine the most efficient way for a structure to support a given load.

2.5 - Investigate methods used by engineers to ensure structural safety.

2.6 - Use appropriate science and technology vocabulary in oral and written communication.

2.7 - Use a variety of forms to communicate with different audiences and for a variety of purposes.

Understanding Basic Concepts

3.1- Classify structures as solid structures, frame structures, or shell structures.

3.3 - Describe ways in which the centre of gravity of a structure affects the structure’s stability.

3.4 - Distinguish between external forces and internal forces acting on a structure.

3.5 - Describe the role of symmetry in structures

3.6 - Identify and describe factors that can cause a structure to fail.

3.7 - Identify the factors that determine the suitability of materials for use in manufacturing a product.


Key Concepts: The concept of stability and how it is important to consider this when designing and building structures for the safety of the individuals who will occupy it.


Prior Skill Sets: This Grade 7 exploration is based on the form and function strand of the Ontario Curriculum which is based on students prior knowledge in Science & Technology from previous grade levels in terms of scientific investigation skills, safety in the science classroom and making hypothesizes and inferences on phenomena around them. The concepts in this strand are fairly new to the students.


Prior Knowledge: Similar to the prior skill sets, students should have a foundation knowledge of how to use scientific vocabulary and investigation skills in order to explore the activities provided in this resource.


Materials and Equipment: There are no specific materials that are required for the implementation of this exploration beyond handouts and audio-visual equipment. However, it is highly recommended that there is either a small budget set aside or that the teacher gathers a number of ‘odds and ends’ type of materials that could be used by the students for their final project of creating a structure that could withstand a natural disaster. The teacher may also want to have at their disposal metre sticks, rulers, glue, glue gun, markers, construction paper, cardboard, etc. Great places to gather these types of items are dollar stores, grocery stores, community donation facilities, etc. The teacher may also choose to engage the parents/community members of their school in order to inquire about these items.


Safety: Since there are no specific materials recommended for this exploration, the basic safety rules that would apply to a science classroom/elementary school would apply as outlined by the school and school board. The teacher may also want to consider implementing basic safety as outlined in the STAO Science Safety In The Elementary Classroom resource as well.


Instructional Planning and Delivery:

This exploration is setup as four inquiry-based lessons that will guide the students into exploring the concept of stability in terms of natural and human-created structures, stability requirements in general, a case study and a video about engineering. It is important that students have a variety of activities/lessons to learn about and discover the importance of stability and how engineers use their own experiences with structural failure to create safer and more stable structures. The teacher can use these lessons sequentially or they can pick and choose in order to complement the unit/strand they are working through with their students. Therefore, this exploration could be used as something that covers this strand of the Grade 7 Science Curriculum or it could be used as supplementary and/or as a final inquiry-based project. Assessment is provided in terms of editable rubrics created in word that focus on the final project. Teachers may use these verbatim or can modify them based on their own instructional practices and/or the needs/requirements of their own students. There are no assessments included for lessons #1-5, these only have teacher recommendations and worksheets. The teacher may wish to add some type of assessments to these or use the final project as the assessment piece for this exploration. Each lesson is setup with a big idea and some type of class introduction and then it provides suggestions for how to explore different aspects of stability. Please note that the teacher is not limited to the contents of this exploration, but can be used as a guide to help structure the learning and instructional pedagogy.


Lesson #1: Introduction To Stability (1-2 Working Periods)

Lesson #2: Stability of Structures (1-2 Working Periods)

Lesson #3: Stability (1-2 Working Periods)

Lesson #4:  Case Study – The Tower of Pisa (1-2 Working Periods)

Lesson #5:  Video – To Engineer Is Human (1-2 Working Periods)

Lesson #5:  Final Project  (4-6 Working Periods)


Student Support Resources:  

This exploration contains teacher instructional strategies and suggested lesson outlines as well as worksheets and assessment documents that can be used with the students. Please note that the assessment documents are included as word files so that the teacher can modify/adapt based on their own instructional practices and/or the needs of their students.


Related Background Resources and/or Links: The resources that are included in this unit were created from ideas, lesson plans, lesson outlines, projects ideas and conversations with other educators. I would like to acknowledge the important contributions of Danny Ho, James Dark, Oreet Portnoy and Adam Murray in the creation of this exploration.


Assessment Opportunities:

Please note that assessment included in this resource based on the final project in lesson #6 that are in word format so that the teacher can adapt/modify/accommodate based on their own instructional practices and/or the needs of their students. There are no assessment documents for lessons #1-5.


Future Opportunities / Extensions:

The final lesson in this exploration engages the students in researching at least one natural disaster and designing a structure that should be able to withstand it. One recommendation for an extension to this exploration is to showcase the projects in some type of interactive science-fair where the students setup their projects in an interactive style that engages other students/community members and potentially to physically test these structures in front of an audience. It is possible that the teacher could also set this up as a large-scale challenge demonstration to see which structure ‘survives’, in a friendly-competition type format.