Seismograph Challenge: Incorporating Engineering Design into Science

At the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, our 7th grade students are studying earth science now, with a focus on plate tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanoes. To connect this topic to our aerospace theme, we are looking at how scientists use remote sensing with aircraft, spacecraft, or remote ground sensors to study earth science. Since another theme of our academy is engineering, I also try to have some sort of engineering design challenge with every unit. This is right in line with the new science standards:

“The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) represent a commitment to integrate engineering design into the structure of science education by raising engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry…students are expected to be able to define problems—situations that people wish to change—by specifying criteria and constraints for acceptable solutions; generating and evaluating multiple solutions; building and testing prototypes; and optimizing a solution.” (NGSS Release, April 2013)

Therefore, this past week, I gave students the challenge to design and build a seismograph, the device used to detect and measure an earthquake. Students learned how seismographs were first developed, how they have been used, and some simple ways to make one. They took these ideas and developed their own designs, then they built prototypes, then we tested them in our Makerspace by using a workbench as our “Earthquake Test Center.” It was a fun project, and all of the seismographs registered “earthquakes,” both large and small – we pounded on the workbench to simulate a large earthquake, and we wound up and released a little hopping bunny toy to simulate a small one. Here are photos of each crew (student group) and their design:


Here are photos of students testing their seismographs before the big test:


Author: Bryan Holmes, Physics & Math Teacher, STEM Competition Mentor

Starting at Thomaston High School in Thomaston, Connecticut, in fall of 2018.

2 thoughts on “Seismograph Challenge: Incorporating Engineering Design into Science”

    1. Norma, I am happy to share what I have. Our curriculum is unusual, as I link everything I can to our aerospace theme. In preparation for this design challenge, I had the students look at NASA’s InSight mission, a seismographic probe being sent to Mars in 2018. We had already studied plate tectonics and earthquakes, so this was a hands on application of prior knowledge. If you give me your email through my contact page, I can send the lesson materials.


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