Classroom Catalyst (Elementary)

The Science Behind the Fairytale

Title: Structures and Mechanisms

Tina-Marie Sands & Leanne Davidson

Grade Level: Grade 5

Strand(s) and Unit(s):     Understanding Structures and Mechanisms -

Forces Acting on Structures and Mechanisms


Inquiry Focus: List key words and/or key question(s) that reflect the focus of the inquiry-based learning experience/approach.

Use technological problem-solving skills (see page 16) to design, build, and test a frame structure (e.g., a bridge, a tower) that will withstand the application of an external force (e.g., a strong wind or simulated vibrations from a train) or a mechanical system that performs a specific function (e.g., a building crane)


The timeline for this unit will be as follows: 3-4 weeks

Instruction on structures and mechanisms in the environment and the forces which act upon them (Begin Mid-May)

Design, build and test a frame structure that will withstand an external force or a mechanical system that performs a specific function (Begin June 1 with testing by Mid-June)


Big Ideas:

  1. Structures and mechanisms throughout our environment have forces that act on and within them. (Overall expectations 1 and 3)

  2. We can measure forces in order to determine how they affect structures and mechanisms. This information can be used to guide the design of new structures and mechanisms. (Overall expectations 1 and 2)

  3. Forces that result from natural phenomena have an effect on society and the environment. (Overall expectations 1 and 3)


Overall Expectations:

1. analyse social and environmental impacts of forces acting on structures and mechanisms;

2. investigate forces that act on structures and mechanisms;

3. identify forces that act on and within structures and mechanisms, and describe the effects of these forces on structures and mechanisms.


Learning Goal:

We are learning to compare natural and human forces on structures of different materials for a sophisticated understanding of the concept of force acting internally and externally on structures and/or mechanisms.


Prior Knowledge:

Students will have studied pulleys and gears in grade 4. There should a basic understanding of pulleys and gears make it possible for a small input force to generate a large output force (so the pulleys and gears do the work).

Students will have studied strong and stable structures in grade 3. There should be a basic understanding of structures are affected by forces acting on them. Structure, strength  and stability.

Inquiry Based Science

Inquiry-based science adopts an investigative approach to teaching and learning where students are provided with opportunities to investigate a problem, search for possible solutions, make observations, ask questions, test out ideas, and think creatively and use their intuition. In this sense, inquiry-based science involves students doing science where they have opportunities to explore possible solutions, develop explanations for the phenomena under investigation, elaborate on concepts and processes, and evaluate or assess their understandings in the light of available evidence. This approach to teaching relies on teachers recognizing the importance of presenting problems to students that will challenge their current conceptual understandings so they are forced to reconcile anomalous thinking and construct new understandings. (Dr. Gillies)


Instructional Planning and Delivery: This section should fully describe the lesson sequence on how you apply the inquiry-based strategy/approach in your classroom and the steps teachers can follow to adapt for use in their classrooms. Where ever possible, embed teacher tips and hints throughout the lessons/approaches.  

Here are some helpful ideas:

  • How did you start the process?

  • What were the guiding questions?   Backwards design process:

    • What is it that you want your students to learn or to be able to do?

    • How will you know that they learned what you wanted them to learn (or do)?

    • How will you get them there?

  • How did you scaffold the instruction of required skill sets and knowledge-building? Use sub-headings to describe the sequence of teaching/learning strategies and discussion outlines with suggested timelines.

  • What were the Inquiry experiential and hands-on opportunities? Use sub-headings to describe these teaching/learning opportunities with suggested timelines.

Student Support Resources:  

Classroom-ready student support materials have been included. Handouts for students and rubrics for assessments have also been included for all inquiry based lessons. Handouts have been numbered and referenced.


Assessment Opportunities:

Classroom assessment strategies and tools have been incorporated into the lessons to reflect how well students are achieving the curriculum expectations by assessing for learning and as learning.

Future Opportunities / Extensions: Structures to support learning in Science strands in later grades could be built using the skills and knowledge obtained in this earlier build. For example, structures in grade 6 science (car frame) could be built on which electricity (small motor, battery), wheels and axles could be added to create movement of the structure.

Grade 4 Science investigates pulleys and gears. Students could build simple structures on which their pulley system could work (example: base and stand for pulley system). Ancient civilizations are also part of the grade 4 curriculum. Student investigations could explore and build simple machines and devices.

Guest speakers could include: professionals involved in engineering, construction, weather reporting, municipal emergency services (downed trees, building damage due to extreme weather.)

Learning Activities

Key Concepts

Learning Activities/Resources

Materials and Equipment

Effect of Natural Phenomena  on natural and built environments.



tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunami, flood, wildfire

suspension, arched, cantilever, truss, beam, tension, compression, stability, gravity



  • The frame (not the walls) supports the structure.

  • Engineers must use strong shapes.

  • Triangles and arches are strong

  • A-frame is  very strong

  • bridges - truss, beam, suspension, arch, cantilever


What is the phenomena?

How does it impact the city, environment, buildings, etc.?

What can we do to protect ourselves?

Identify structural features that overcome these forces? ex. cross supports for roofs, steel beams in a roof.


Teacher Reference 1 - Mini Inquiry

Handout 1 - students


BYOD - Junior Resources


Science and Technology Activities Resource (pg. 8)


Beam, truss, suspension bridges(3 min)


Bill Nye - Structures(25 min)


Strong Structures with Triangles (5 min)


Making Structures Strong (7 min)


Peer Feedback - Student Handout 2A

Exit Ticket -Student Handout 2B

Construction Techniques and Materials to withstand natural phenomena



(Choice of video for student)

video prompt for questions

bridge in california

shopping mall  in Japan

shopping mall in Canada snow

tornado and house


article about too many people on a roof - collapse


video about calgary arena roof collapse


houses under construction collapse


group research gathering see document below.


Safety Considerations


Handout 3

article -extreme weather and design

article -extreme weather and design

article - extreme weather and design

website and images - home construction

Washington Post Article on building

hurricane proof home

earthquake proof

stronger structures - triangles

Teacher Resource 3

1.2 impact of society and environment on structures and mechanisms?

Not sure



Persuasive Letter

taking different perspectives into account (e.g., the perspectives of golfers, local bird-watching groups, families, a school board), and suggest ways in which structures and mechanisms can be modified to best achieve social and environmental objectives Sample issues:

see attached task.

Persuasive Letter


Students will choose the scenario and then in groups they will brainstorm possible solutions and arguments for both sides of the issue/solution.

Identifying different perspectives from various groups/stakeholders.


Then each student will write their persuasive letter.


Prior to writing, students will be analysing sample persuasive letters or teacher could model persuasive letter writing.

Handout 4A & 4B

Teacher Resource 4


Idea: provide descriptive feedback specifically on the letter format and then let them re-submit after they use the feedback.

Measure Load: measure and compare quantitatively or qualitatively the force to move a load.



force to move a load - comparing the use of a mechanism. Force to move load from stationary position up, force to move load up a ramp, force to move load using a lever and finally using a pulley system.

Using a mechanism gives you an advantage (developed after experiment)


  • load

  • lever

  • work

  • newtons

  • inclined plane

  • pulley system

  • spring scale

  • mechanism

  • mechanical advantage

eg. lift a book, open a drawer,

Using different mechanical systems

relationship between force and distance


Experiment with pulley systems and spring scales



Science and Technology Activities Resource (GTK Press)

Student Handout 5


only do 1-6 on experiment steps



advantages and disadvantages of mechanical systems (hoist, 4 pulleys the more pulleys the less force needed in a system.


Extend student investigation by prompting them to build another pulley system that will raise the load with even less work (number 7 page 23).



Students will create their own observation chart and record observations and changes to the pulley system.

Science and Technology Vocab/Concepts



  • internal force (compression/tension)

  • external force (weight, furniture in house, movement caused by train)



  • tension

  • compression

  • system

  • load


page 11-14  forces on structure   science and tech


Students will  review concepts and terminology of tension and compression and gravity.


Students will build a bridge out of straws, string and tape.

Student Handout 6


40 straws

1 metre of tape

1 metre of string


task: to build a strong bridge to cross a 20-cm expanse.

Using Building Materials - The Pre-Build

Pre-build for culminating task

Picture frame for Father’s Day

use of saw, clamp, hot glue gun

creation of mitred corners


videos for use of tools safely (STAO)

STAO instructions for picture frame

picture frame


safety slide deck

Culminating Task - The Build

build a fairy tale structure and write a fairy tale.


1. analyse social and environmental impacts of forces acting on structures and mechanisms;

2. investigate forces that act on structures and mechanisms;

3. identify forces that act on and within structures and mechanisms, and describe the effects of these forces on structures and mechanisms.

Planning Document - students will create a planning document which answers the following questions:



What strategies will you use to ensure that you build a structure capable of withstanding an external force?

How will you test your structure?

What safety measures do you need to consider when testing it?

How will you know if your structure was successful?




What function is your device intended to perform?

How will you test your device?

What safety measures do you need to consider when testing it?

How will you know if your device was successful?



Student Handout 7A - Assignment

Student Handout 7B - Graphic Organizer

Student Handout 7C - Planning Document

Student Handout 7D

Student Handout 7E


Reflection (written) after build

(Part of Planning Document)

What changes might you suggest  to improve its efficiency, functionality or performance?


Teacher Handout 5A and 5B