Background Information

These activities provide an opportunity to talk about structures you know. A structure is an arrangement of interrelated materials to create buildings, bridges, aircrafts, beaver dams or machines. There are many bridges (anchored at two ends) around Nova Scotia to talk about. They range from the Seal Island Bridge, the St. Peter’s Canal, Trenton Connector, Canso Causeway, etc. to logs thrown across a brook. Geometry plays an important role in building structures which begins to answer the question; Where might geometry be used or important outside of math class? Geometry can be used with; 

  • Drawing shapes in art
  • Measurement and relationships of angles in surfaces in solids in the world
  • Building structures requires the knowledge of the properties of shapes

There are many kinds of Engineering including Agricultural, Civil and Environmental! To explore different types of Engineering click here

For these activities we will be focusing on Construction and Civil Engineering! 

Indigenous Engineers! 

Visit the Aboriginal Access to Engineering Website to meet Indigenous Engineers!

Some of the Engineers featured on this webpage are; 

Deanna Burgart who identifies with the Cree/Nene – Fond du Lac First Nation 

Burgart is both a Certified Engineering Technologist and an engineer. She has a passion for the environment which led her to her job today as a co-owner of an engineering firm with a mission to engage Indigenous communities and support the sustainability of the environment. Burgart enjoys being an engineer as she explains that she combines scientific engineering principles with her passion for the environment and protecting mother earth. 

Matthew Dunn who identifies with Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation 

Dunn has completed his Masters in Mechanical Engineering and is currently working in the position of Indigenous Peoples Initiatives Coordinator for the College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. “Getting to come to work every day and help to develop and implement initiatives that will ultimately lead to more Indigenous students becoming successful professional engineers is extremely gratifying,” he said.

Black Engineers!

Click here to learn about the achievements of Black Engineers! Included on this page is Elijah McCoy;

Elijah McCoy: Canadian-American Inventor and Engineer 

McCoy studied to be a Mechanical Engineer in Scotland however he was unable to find a position in the US so he took a job working for a railroad. This led him to invent a lubrication device to make railroad operations more efficient. McCoy refined his devices over his career, receiving nearly 60 patents over his career. 

African American Engineers: Check out these Youtube videos explaining the achievements of many African American Engineers!

Activity) Learning Modules 

Visit the Aboriginal Access to Engineering Website and explore some of their Learning Modules

Specifically, visit the Construction module to learn about; 

  • The history of construction
  • Major construction projects
  • Remarkable construction achievements
  • Modern day construction
  • Stages of construction
  • Organizations and management

Activity) Strength of Shapes 

Click here for an interactive activity to learn about different shapes and their strength. 

You can also go through this powerpoint presentation to learn about the strength of shapes.

Activity) Paper Bridges

Adapted from Exploratorium

In this activity, students experiment with a variety of shapes such as folded corrugations and rolled tubes that can make an inherently weak material such as paper much stronger. Paper is very weak under compression and is somewhat stronger under tension (i.e., it collapses when you push the ends together but it doesn’t pull apart easily). When you put weight on a sheet of paper it tends to buckle because it is very thin. It has no strength along the thin direction. By folding or rolling the paper, you create a “thickness” which allows the paper to reinforce itself and not collapse so easily.  Think of a 2×4 board or beam – if laid with 4” up, there is 2” to support it, vs if you flip it up with 2” on top, there is 4” to support it.

Materials: 5 sheets of paper, paper clips and a measuring tape

Step 1) Using one sheet of paper, construct a bridge that will span an 8-inch gap between two surfaces (desks, chairs, etc.) WITHOUT anchoring the bridge to the desks 

Step 2) Once accomplished, experiment by adding paper clips as weights, one at a time until it collapses. 

Step 3) Adding 1 sheet of paper at a time, challenge the students to create a stronger bridge. 

Step 4) What shape seemed weakest/strongest, what part of the bridge seemed to collapse first? Where was the bridge weakest? What would happen if the desks were farther/closer and why? What do you think would happen if you could anchor the bridges to the desks? Why?


  • Other paper-building activities and testing can extend this work. Can you build a paper column that will support a book? Can you build a strong paper wall? Design a test to find the strongest paper beam. All of these questions look at the interplay between properties of the material (paper) and form.
  • Building paper bridges with other kinds of paper can also extend this work. What can you do with a single sheet of newspaper? How about a sheet of tissue paper?

Activity) Wigwam Building 

The word “wigwam” comes from the Mi’kmaq word “wikuom” meaning a dwelling. A wigwam is typically constructed of five spruce poles, lashed together at the top and spread out at the bottom. A hoop of moosewood is tied under the poles just down from the top to brace the poles. Birchbark sheets are laid over the poles like shingles. The top is left open for fireplace smoke to escape. Notice the triangular shape of the wigwam, as discussed in the previous activity this is a strong, sturdy shape.

The Mi’kmaq would have larger wigwams or longhouses because there would be more space for air to flow through. The winter would have smaller wigwams because it would be easier to heat. The Mi’kmaq people would place their door way in the East direction because that is the direction where the sun rises. 

Gathering large amounts of birch bark to make a wigwam is done during a certain time of the year. They would gather the bark when the sap is running.  Conservation or netukulimk is important to the Mi’kmaq people and Mi’kmaw traditional knowledge helps us to understand when to gather the materials. Bark is always gathered when the sap is running and the crickets are singing because it provides the tree the opportunity to heal itself. The sap acts as a bandaid to the tree.

Try making your own wigwam with materials found outside!

Go outside for a nature walk and find materials on the ground that would be useful for making your own mini wigwam. Materials that could be used include;

  • Sticks
  • Birch Bark
  • Fallen Leaves
  • Pine Cones

Or materials around the house can be used including;

  • String
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Fabric

Activity) Chocolate Welding

Try this activity, from The Welding Institute, to build a structure made out of chocolate. This structure is related to bridge making by welding together flat pieces of chocolate to build a stronger structure. The activity can be used to demonstrate ideas such as the strength of structures, welding, melting, reversible change, strength testing and the properties of materials. Visit the link below for the instructions.

Activity) Blanket and Pillow Fort 

Work to create an effective blanket and pillow fort in your home! 

You will first need to find a location in your house to create the fort. Begin by creating the roof of the fort. Be careful here because you need to be able to support the blanket roof. Next you can start construction on the walls. Again you need to make sure the blankets are supported or they will fall down. Consider including a door to be able to easily enter and exit the fort. Consider using different shapes in your fort based on your knowledge of the strength of shapes. 

Decorate the fort how you would like! 

For a full module outcome and Nova Scotia Curriculum Connections visit our google drive;