How can we build a structure that protects toy people from wind?

How does this align with my curriculum?

Design and build a structure that protects toy people from the wind.

What You Need

  • 2 small toy people, about 5 cm or 2” tall (e.g., LEGO® or Playmobil® people)
  • A piece of string 50 cm or about 18” long
  • 6 popsicle sticks or craft sticks
  • Half a piece of letter-size paper 8.5” by 5.5” or 27.9 cm x 10.8 cm 
  • 1 piece of sticky tack or blu tack, about the size of your fingernail
  • 1 piece of cardstock
  • Scissors
  • 1 electric fan

Safety First
Be careful using electric fans. Keep your fingers away from the blades.

What To Do

  • Two toy people have been shipwrecked on a tropical island. Your challenge is to design and build a shelter for them. It needs to stand up to the wind from an electric fan.
Shoreline of an island
Tropical island where the people are shipwrecked (Source: deezaat via iStockphoto)
  • You may only use the tools and materials provided. 
  • Put the piece of cardstock on a table. It will be your base. You must attach your structure to the cardstock using the stick tack. You can’t use the stick tack for anything else.
  • You must set up your completed structure 60 cm or about 2’ away from the electric fan. You must point the fan directly at your structure.
  • Turn the fan on the lowest setting for 30 seconds. If your structure withstands that force, turn the fan up to the next setting for 30 seconds. Continue until the fan is at the highest setting.
  • You are successful if you have created a structure that meets these 2 requirements: 
    • Your toy people must be able to sit safely under it. 
    • It must not fall apart when blown by the electric fan at the highest setting for at least 30 seconds.

What’s Happening?

Wind happens when air flows from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. Tropical islands can have very strong winds during hurricanes

Hurricanes form when warm, moist air over the ocean rises quickly. This creates an area of low pressure. Then, air blows into this area of low pressure. This new air gets warmer and rises as well. This cycle can lead to violent winds that can batter islands and coastal areas. 

What’s Happening?

Wind happens when air flows from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. Tropical islands can have very strong winds during hurricanes

Hurricanes form when warm, moist air over the ocean rises quickly. This creates an area of low pressure. Then, air blows into this area of low pressure. This new air gets warmer and rises as well. This cycle can lead to violent winds that can batter islands and coastal areas. 

Why does it matter?

Strong winds have a big impact on communities near the ocean. Storms can cause billions of dollars of wind damage to buildings and other structures. Many people get trapped, seriously injured, or even killed as a result. Buildings that withstand high winds can help keep people safe.

It’s important to think about both the shape of a building and the materials used to make it. For example, roofs with four sloping sides and no overhang reduces wind resistance. And builders might choose materials like steel beams and cement siding that can withstand strong wind. Building structures that withstand strong wind protects thousands of peoples’ lives and homes.

Structures with and without hurricane-adapted roofs
Traditional house with gabled roof and overhanging eaves on the left. Hurricane-resistant hip roof with no overhanging eaves on the right (©2020 Let’s Talk Science based on an image by Doug White Architecture)

Why does it matter?

Strong winds have a big impact on communities near the ocean. Storms can cause billions of dollars of wind damage to buildings and other structures. Many people get trapped, seriously injured, or even killed as a result. Buildings that withstand high winds can help keep people safe.

It’s important to think about both the shape of a building and the materials used to make it. For example, roofs with four sloping sides and no overhang reduces wind resistance. And builders might choose materials like steel beams and cement siding that can withstand strong wind. Building structures that withstand strong wind protects thousands of peoples’ lives and homes.

Structures with and without hurricane-adapted roofs
Traditional house with gabled roof and overhanging eaves on the left. Hurricane-resistant hip roof with no overhanging eaves on the right (©2020 Let’s Talk Science based on an image by Doug White Architecture)

Investigate Further

  • Can your structure withstand wind from all directions? Rotate your structure so that each side is exposed to the fan.
  • Can you make a structure that will protect your toy people from water as well?

Investigate Further

  • Can your structure withstand wind from all directions? Rotate your structure so that each side is exposed to the fan.
  • Can you make a structure that will protect your toy people from water as well?

Learn More

Weather: Wind (2020)

This backgrounder from Let’s Talk Science explains what causes wind and how to measure it. 

Where Do Hurricanes Come From? (2019)

This article from Let’s Talk Science explains how hurricanes form, where they hit land and the damage they can do.

How Do Hurricanes Form? (2019)

This video (2:22 min) from NOAA SciJinks illustrates how hurricanes start and how we know they’re coming.

Learn More

Weather: Wind (2020)

This backgrounder from Let’s Talk Science explains what causes wind and how to measure it. 

Where Do Hurricanes Come From? (2019)

This article from Let’s Talk Science explains how hurricanes form, where they hit land and the damage they can do.

How Do Hurricanes Form? (2019)

This video (2:22 min) from NOAA SciJinks illustrates how hurricanes start and how we know they’re coming.

References

Doug White Architecture. (n. d.). Design Guidelines for Hurricane Resistant Buildings.

NASA Science. (2019). How Do Hurricanes Form? 

New Jersey Institute of Technology. (2007). Home Shapes And Roofs That Hold Up Best In Hurricanes. Science Daily.

UCAR Center for Science Education. (n. d.) Hurricane Damage.

References

Doug White Architecture. (n. d.). Design Guidelines for Hurricane Resistant Buildings.

NASA Science. (2019). How Do Hurricanes Form? 

New Jersey Institute of Technology. (2007). Home Shapes And Roofs That Hold Up Best In Hurricanes. Science Daily.

UCAR Center for Science Education. (n. d.) Hurricane Damage.