Why this activity
I organize STEM-themed family nights in our school once a month. As a Scientix Ambassador, these meetings become an excellent way to spread STEM education model to a wider community. Since the STEM Discovery Week takes place in April, I see this as a great opportunity to combine our Family STEM Night activity for April with STEM Discovery Week 2019. In our Family STEM Nights students, teachers and parents meet and they all work together to accomplish the challenges specifically designed for that night. For the STEM Discovery Week 2019, our main scope is to learn about the physics, math, engineering, architecture, design and technology behind geodesic domes and create one as a team..
Our activity began with a short video to attract the participants’ attention. Then we discussed about different roof and ceiling structures through the history such as ancient Greek temples (Parthenon), Egyptian and Mayan pyramids. With this approach we learned more about why the domes are more practical, beneficial, convenient and functional. Many architects and engineers throughout the history like Da Vinci, Mimar Sinan and Buckminster Fuller tried to build large domes to demonstrate their immortal masterpieces. We also examined world-wide famous domes from history to our days like Hagia Sophia, Astrodome, Climatron. (here is the link for the slides)
Geodesic domes are made completely out of triangles, yet, they have the strength of rounded arches! They do not require any internal support or walls. They are one of the safest structures in a natural disaster. Obviously, these features have grounded us to plan a STEM activity around them! This activity possesses everything we need for learners. It is also well-suited for introducing possible STEM careers.
There were almost 50 pupils and 50 parents in that night. After the introductions, the group was divided into three teams (blue team, red team, green team). Each team is asked to sketch their dome design first. Students and parents in each team search and learn about domes and work in teams to construct their own using everyday materials.
They can design the frame for their dome on paper or they can create the model using Sketchup or Tinkercad if they prefer. Then they gather hands-on materials, construct their geodesic dome, and test their prototypes. Each team constructs their domes with different materials available to their teams. Blue team uses cardboards, scissors, compass, ruler, staples to complete their dome. Green team uses drinking straws, tape, glue, hot silicone, rubber bands, paper clips, plastic wrap, foil to complete their dome. Red team uses wooden chopsticks, wire, popsicle sticks, piper cleaners to complete their dome. Team members investigate materials before choosing which ones they are going to use. Considerable amount of time is given to construct the domes. At the end of the session we recap on findings from the work. Each team presents their dome to the rest of the group and explains their design choices. Other teams see each other’s ideas and ask questions about the experience: what went well, what could be improved, what next? They will be encouraged to think and talk about team work and the process of engineering and building in the real world. Finally, participants summarize their learning with short answers to questions about the experience and what they learned. They also complete a reflection sheet about process of design, assessing the materials used and construction phase.
You can access photos from the activity here and here
For more information about the math and science concepts behind this activity, please visit
Expected Learning Outcomes of the Activity
• Experiment with straws, sticks and cardboards to make 2D shapes and 3D forms
• Learn about Geodesic domes and the power of the triangle in architectural building structures
• Model the process of engineering design and redesign, construction techniques,
• Develop skills for teamwork and problem solving.
• Construct a dome based on geodesic design using the different materials
• Test their design and evaluate it based on specifications.
• Select necessary materials from an array of provided materials.
• Write a detailed report for the process of designing the dome.
Related Careers: Civil Engineer, Mathematician, Architect, Artist
This acitivity provides many STEM extensions. As a jumping off point, you can require students to:
Construct a dome for a bird house or greenhouse using recycled materials.
Research and report on the life of R. Buckminster Fuller and his varied contributions to the world of STEM disciplines.
Watch this video and design a transformable product