Test a Dam

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SWBAT design and construct a dam to address a human problem.

Big Idea

Engineering a dam can solve the human problem of flooding.

Content Review

10 minutes

I begin this lesson by presenting students with a problem in a fictional town. I inform the students that in the town, there is a river. After heavy rains, the water rises above the river bank and floods nearby homes. I tell my students that they have been chosen as the engineering team tasked with solving the problem. I tell my students that they'll need to work collaboratively to design a dam that directs the flow of river water away from the homes.

To aid them with this task, I ask students to review what they learned about different types of dams in the previous lesson. I provide students with time to review the graphic organizer they created and to share what they remember about the four types of dams.

I then provide each student with a copy of the build a dam lab record sheet. I review the directions for the lab. I also show students the student dam materials table and tell them about each of the materials they can use to construct their dam. Finally, I assign each student with a job for the day's lab.

Project Design

15 minutes

Next, I provide students with group work time to create a dam design for the day's lab. I ask student teams to create a dam design based on one of the types of dams they have studied in class. I then ask students to consider which materials they will use to construct the dam. I remind students that when they select materials, they need to consider the material's permeability, durability, and strength. 

As student groups work on their designs, I do not circulate around the classroom to ask questions or provide guidance. Because I want this task to serve as a performance assessment and to build student confidence and independence, I spend my time observing student interactions and monitoring behavior.

When student groups have agreed upon a design and materials, I ask them to record their design on page two of their lab recording sheet.

Construction and Testing

25 minutes

After each group completes and records their design, I ask them to gather materials, construct their dam, and test their dam. During this time, I work at the materials table helping student safely and efficiently gather and transport materials to their work stations. Once all materials are gathered, I visit each student group to observe, ask clarifying questions about their design and results, and to monitor student work. 

To test their dam, students pour two liters of water through their stream table using a cup with a large hole in the bottom. While they are testing the dam, the students not pouring water or holding the catch bucket, observe where the water goes in the stream table and record it on their lab sheet. Student observers are very important because they determine the effectiveness of the design. 

Examples of the dam designs (after testing) from my five student teams can be found herehereherehere, and here


10 minutes

After each group has completed their test, I ask students to return to their seat for a whole-class discussion. I ask each student group to bring their stream table to the front of the classroom. I display each student design on the document camera so that all students in the class can see the design. I ask each group to share what went well about their design, what they could improve upon, and to evaluate the overall success of their dam. As each group shares their results, I invite students to share questions that they may have for the group.