5th Graders Study Geotechnical Engineering

Mr. Wagner’s Fifth Grade Science Engineering class is currently studying a unit on Geotechnical

Engineering. In this unit the students are exploring and discussing landforms, erosion, and

geotechnical engineering. They are leaning first hand that engineers frequently use models when

representing large scale systems, such as the layers of the earth. They are learning that they need

to use multiple factors when designing a technology and that balancing these factors requires

trade-offs. They are currently using hands-on building of bridges as their projects.

The class began the unit by having Mr. Wagner read to them the book Suman Crosses the

Karnali River. The students were then asked to identify and discuss several factors to consider

when choosing a site for a structure. The students collaborated and took notes from their group

engagements and we then shared these ideas as a whole class.

Students also learned:

  • Geotechnical engineers use their engineering knowledge and knowledge of the layers of
  • earth to help evaluate landscapes and decide the best sites on which to build structures.
  • They identified that many factors affect whether a site is a good choice on which to build a structure, including type of soil, probability of erosion, and the needs and wants of citizens.
  • We discussed and collaborated on the site of the structure and the importance of longevity.
  • We identified that the Engineering Design Process is a tool that can be used to help solve problems.

The Tie-In Science Content

  • Landforms change over time and we need to take that into consideration when building a bridge.
  • Erosion is the wearing away of earth materials by water, wind, or ice.

Student Misconceptions:

  • Technology is only things that move.
  • Technology is only computers.
  • Technology is only things that use electricity.
  • We had some outstanding collaboration on these misconceptions.

Student Insights:

  • They came up with the theory that anything that people design to solve a problem is technology.
  • Technology doesn’t always use electricity.
  • People design technology.
  • Technology can be used and made of lots of different materials.
  • An engineer’s job is to design technology.

Student Vocabulary:
Students had to define the following vocabulary words.


  • truss
  • pier
  • trestle
  • cable
  • caisson
  • acute angle
  • angle
  • congruent
  • diagonal
  • edge
  • obtuse angle
  • parallel lines
  • parallelogram
  • perpendicular line
  • polygon
  • quadrilateral
  • right angle
  • straight angle
  • trapezoid

Student Projects:

  • The students were to use the following materials for their projects.
  • Toothpicks, glue, noodles

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