STEM Activity Earthquakes Challenge

Grade Levels
3rd - 5th
Formats Included
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27 pages
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This STEM activity features an earthquake simulation with students building and shaking! This amazing engineering project has turned out to be one of our favorites! Students must build a structure following strict rules and then test its stability by using a shake-tray. Your kids will love building the structures and cheering when they remain standing! Three different methods are included along with directions for building your shake tray.

This challenge is available in money-saving bundles:

NOTE: This resource contains many ways to complete this challenge! Check for more details below!

What is the challenge?

Students will be using materials to design a three-story structure that can withstand being shaken in a mild earthquake simulation. The “earth” pan you provide for the simulation uses an easy supply- gelatin. Or you can construct a shake-tray following the simple instructions included in the resource package. Just prepare the shake-tray and then let students add their structures to it. The structures are built using only three materials, must resemble a building (not a tower), and be stable enough to keep standing. Will the buildings survive the mild earthquake?

What is your prep?


Which shake tray will you use? Materials for each are listed.

  • Shake Tray #1 - metal or plastic pans and gelatin
  • Shake Tray #2 - plastic bin, foam board, elastic or ribbon, and binder clips.

Which version of materials will you use? Materials for each are listed.

  • Challenge Version #1 - mini marshmallows, toothpicks, and cardboard pieces.
  • Challenge Version #2 - narrow and wide craft sticks, masking tape, and cardboard pieces.
  • Challenge Version #3 - straws, masking tape, cardboard pieces.

The package specifically includes:

  • cover
  • teacher background
  • materials and preparation page
  • 5 pages of detailed teacher directions for the gelatin version
  • constraints list
  • 4 pages of photographs
  • two extra Hints pages
  • student lab sheet with sample answers
  • scoring rubric
  • Terms of Use page
  • All forms are provided in an editable format.
  • The NEW PAGES include detailed teacher directions for a plastic bin shake tray, three pages of photos and lists for alternative materials, and some final ideas and hints. The page count listed for this package includes everything.

This challenge will need 1-2 class sessions (1-2 hours) to complete.

This challenge works great with two more in the Earth Series:

Or save money and grab the Earth Series Bundle:

You might also enjoy these Earth Day Resources:


You might also like these STEM Challenges:


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Total Pages
27 pages
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
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to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans. Examples of solutions could include designing an earthquake resistant building and improving monitoring of volcanic activity. Assessment is limited to earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.
Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and that their uses affect the environment. Examples of renewable energy resources could include wind energy, water behind dams, and sunlight; non-renewable energy resources are fossil fuels and fissile materials. Examples of environmental effects could include loss of habitat due to dams, loss of habitat due to surface mining, and air pollution from burning of fossil fuels.


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