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Building Tensegrity Structures to Explore Interactions Between Tension and Compression (P12 Resource Exchange)

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Curriculum and Resource Exchange

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Vicki V. May Dartmouth College

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Vicki V. May, Ph.D., P.E. is an Associate Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth College. Her research focuses on engineering education and K-12 outreach. She teaches courses in solid mechanics, structural analysis, and integrated design at Dartmouth. Prior to relocating to the east coast, Professor May was an Associate Professor of Architectural Engineering at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

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Building Tensegrity Structures to Explore Interactions Between Tension and Compression (P12 Resource Exchange)

Description Tension and compression, or pushing and pulling, are important topics in the engineering of solid systems from structures to mechanical systems to biological devices and environmental mechanisms. Tension and compression rarely act in isolation. How do these forces interact within a system? And how can we get students to understand these interactions?

Guidelines for building and understanding tensegrity structures will be given. Tensegrity structures are a way for students to feel and understand how tension and compression work together to stabilize a structure. Basic tensegrity structures are fairly easy to build using rubber bands and wooden dowels. The targeted grade levels for this activity are 5th through 8th.

Sharing Learning Goals: Through this activity students will build 3-dowel and 6-dowel tensegrity structures; identify tension and compression in the structures; and begin to feel how tension and compression work together to stabilize the structures.

Materials: In order to build a 3-dowel and 6-dowel tensegrity structure student will need 9+ wooden dowels (1/8” in diameter and 4-6” in length) and 9+ rubber bands (size #32 bands work well).

Time: It only takes about 30 minutes to build a 3-dowel and a 6-dowel tensegrity structure. Students can extend the activity to design and build tensegrity structures of their own design.

Procedure: Step by step instructions for creating 3-dowel and 6-dowel tensegrity structures will be provided through a handout and a video. An overview of tension and compression and their interactions will also be included along with a series of questions to help students think about tension and compression.

May, V. V. (2016, June), Building Tensegrity Structures to Explore Interactions Between Tension and Compression (P12 Resource Exchange) Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26416

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