ALEX Lesson Plan


Dam Engineering

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Michelle Phillips
System: Chickasaw City
School: Chickasaw City Elementary School
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 35511


Dam Engineering


In Math, students will draw a t-chart to represent dam and flood data obtained from their reading resource. Students will select the information they wish to use from the reading resource (their opinions). Students will then use rulers marked with halves and fourths of an inch to measure lengths and construct a scale model of their own dam, which they can later construct in Science. Students will represent data in a graph and use measurement data by measuring lengths using rulers marked with halves and fourths of an inch. Students will test their scale dams and make changes as needed. 

This unit was created as part of the ALEX Interdisciplinary Resource Development Summit. 

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
MA2015 (2016)
Grade: 3
18 ) Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories. Solve one- and two-step "how many more" and "how many less" problems using information presented in scaled bar graphs. [3-MD3]

Example: Draw a bar graph in which each square in the bar graph might represent 5 pets.

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
M.AAS.3.18- Use a pictograph or bar graph to answer questions about data (limit to three categories).

MA2015 (2016)
Grade: 3
19 ) Generate measurement data by measuring lengths using rulers marked with halves and fourths of an inch. Show the data by making a line plot where the horizontal scale is marked off in appropriate units — whole numbers, halves, or quarters. [3-MD4]

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
M.AAS.3.19- Measure lengths of objects using standard tools (rulers, yardsticks, meter sticks). Limit to whole numbers.

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 3
22 ) Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons. [W.3.1]

a. Introduce the topic or text they are writing about, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure that lists reasons. [W.3.1a]

b. Provide reasons that support the opinion. [W.3.1b]

c. Use linking words and phrases (e.g., because, therefore, since, for example) to connect opinion and reasons. [W.3.1c]

d. Provide a concluding statement or section. [W.3.1d]

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
ELA.AAS.3.22- Compose opinion pieces by stating an opinion, providing a reason related to the opinion, and providing an appropriate conclusion related to the stated opinion.

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

Students will create graphs from data collected and evaluate the information to solve new problems.

Students will measure the lengths of objects using rulers marked with halves and fourths of an inch. 

Additional Learning Objective(s):

Students will write an opinion piece using data to support their reasoning.

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

Greater than 120 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

Student Materials

Reading *Copy for all students or project for class to view as a whole 

Rulers marked with halves and fourths of an inch.



Possible supply list.

Data chart (see attached document).

Dam supplies listed on possible supply list (see attached document).

Water tub.

Teacher Materials

Projector or Smartboard to show video


Internet Access

Water Wheel Video (end of page)

Graph Example

Technology Resources Needed:


Teacher Computer



Students should have read the reading article and previously studied natural disasters. Students should be comfortable using rulers marked with halves and fourths of an inch and have an understanding of the term “scale drawing.” Students should also understand that dams are sometimes used for power (hydroelectric).

The teacher needs to be familiar with the article and natural disasters (such as floods). The teacher needs to be comfortable with the use of dams and the construction of a small class dam in a tub. The teacher may extend the activity to building a larger scale dam. The teacher should be familiar with creating a dam in a tub (such as a storage tub) full of water in the classroom and have a plan for cleanup of supplies and containers full of water. 


Lesson Procedures (Before, During and After):


Day 1




  1. Students will review their reading article that describes the different types of dams and their purpose. This can be done individually if copies where made or as a whole group if article was projected for the class.
  2. Students will watch the water wheel video and take notes on any pros and cons they see to the construction. (Their opinion of pros and cons)
  3. Teacher will demonstrate a T chart on the board or chart paper to help students organize their notes prior to watching the video.
  4. Students will use this information later to make connections to their data graphs and measurements of their dam construction.
  5. Students may be partnered, grouped or work individually depending on the amount of supplies and room in the classroom. Teachers may group students however they see fit to fit the needs of the students and classroom.



  1. Students will review the list of supplies available to them for building a dam.
  2. Students will use their data chart to list the pros and cons of each item so they can compare them easily. (student opinion, they will test tomorrow)
  3. Students will use their data graphing skills to create their organized list of pros and cons for comparison when it is time to measure and create their own dam.



  1. Students will create a graph to compare all the pros and cons of each of their supplies.
  2. Students will make a bar graph with the level of effectiveness on the left from 0-10 (0 worst con and 10 being best pro).  *Example in attachments
  3. Students will use this graph to select up to 5 supplies to build the most successful dam they can.
  4. Students will need to consider the size of their planned dam when selecting supplies. (must fit in water tub)
  5. Teacher will meet with students to review their graphs and conference with the students about their selected supply list.  


Day 2 and Day 3



  1. Students will review their selected supplies and partner talk about why they selected these materials
  2. Students will then collect their needed materials.
  3. Students should review their graph and size goal once they have collected their materials but before they move into testing. Students may make changes if need be to their materials.



  1. Students will use a tub of water to construct their dam (scale dam). Student will measure the tub, their supplies and their finished dams with their ruler to keep track of their data. Students should ask questions like: should the dam be larger? Smaller? Shorter? Taller? Students may use a list to keep track of this data, they should also note if the materials worked (kept the water out) or did not work.
  2. To build the dam students will take a container and fill it with water. The students will add their supplies and attempt to build a dam in the middle that will keep half the container dry and keep all the water on the other side. Teacher can use any container for this project keeping in mind that the bigger the container the more water and dam supplies that will be needed.
  3. After each build, they should record the testing data on a chart to determine what the best building material is. (student opinion but teacher may help with questions like: did the supply hold up? Did it absorb water? Did it fall apart?)
  4. Students may select the type of chart they feel is best for the data collection but the teacher should make sure to review a few ideas for students (bar graphs, t charts, etc.).
  5. Students will record the amount of supplies the dam needed, how difficult it was to build and how well it kept the water out of the dry side of the container.
  6. Students should ask questions like did it leak? Did it fall over? Did it move/float away?
  7. Student may exchange supplies if their testing fails but they must attempt to use all supplies selected first.
  8. Students may not use more than 5 supplies at any given time.
  9. Students should often refer to their pro/con list and graph from Day 1 to ensure their plan is meeting the needs of their dam and the size goal they have planned.



  1. Students will use their testing data charts to determine what they would use to build a large scale dam (writing).
  2. Students will be given the scenario that the back field of the school floods every time it rains. The Principal is worried about the cost of the dam but wants to make sure it will hold back the flood waters. Students are in charge of building a dam that doesn’t cost too much, but that is strong enough to hold back the flood waters.
  3. Students should again refer to their pro/con list, graph from day 1, data from day 2 and 3 and size goal for the dam.
  4. If students need help reading or analyzing their graphs and information they may use prior math notes, teacher help or peer help.
  5. Students should now be focused on real life materials such as concrete and metal. Students will connect things such as if they used toothpicks to hold up the dam in their scale project, they would need supports for a large scale dam so what would they use (wood, concrete, metal, etc.).
  6. Teacher will walk around and watch the students as they test and rethink their dams. Teacher will ensure students are meeting the math standards by using their rulers for accurate measurements and putting their data into charts and graphs after each test.


Day 4 and Day 5



  1. Students will review their data from the past few days and verify they are happy with their choices and tests run.
  2. Teacher will ask a few students to share out some things that worked well for them and some that didn’t.
  3. Students will practice analyzing and understanding the data that has been collected during this week and apply it to new challenges.
  4. Students will need to refer to their measurements to ensure the size of the dam fits the need.
  5. Teacher will review how to move from a scale drawing to a life size object. For example if they needed a foot of dirt in their model and their life sized dam is three times as large they would need to multiple 1x3 to get 3 feet. The size of the life size dam should be determined by the classroom teacher based on the area where students could build it.

*actual construction of the life sized dam is optional and would be completed later or with a different subject (such as Science), this part of the activity can also be used as a writing piece where students would write about their real life dam construction instead of building a larger scale dam.



  1. Students will use a ruler to measure their supplies, making a list of the sizes of all items they will use for their dam.
  2. Students will use a ruler to measure the size of their water tub.
  3. Students will use their measurements to create a scale drawing of the final dam they will build to keep the flood waters out. (final test, students should use failed attempts in prior days as a learning experience to get a dam that works)
  4. Students will complete the needed calculations and create a scale on their dam drawings. (refer students to teacher led activity in the before section)



  1. Students will review all their data and drawings to check for accuracy.
  2. Students will build their dam, to scale, using their rulers and measurement data. (tub dams, life size dams are optional)
  3. Students will present and test their dams using water tub.
  4. Students will collect data from their final test to rate the performance of their dam. Students will do this using a 0-10 scale with 0 being the worse (let all the water pass) to 10 being the best (no water passed to the other side).
  5. Dams will be rated on how well they are able to keep the water from leaking from one side of the container to the other side.
  6. Students will reflect on the performance of their scale dam and write an opinion piece about if their dam should be used for the school field (students must include data that they have collected as evidence in their writing). W.3.1. Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons.
  7. Teacher will review the effectiveness of the dams during the presentation and check for math understanding of measurements and graphs by reading the student paragraphs. 

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Assessment Strategies


Student data charts and graphs: the teacher will check for accuracy of charts and graphs.

Teacher observation: the teacher will check for use of information from charts and graphs, as well as, use of a ruler to ensure proper measurements.


Scale Model Drawing: The teacher will check for accurate ruler measurements.


Students will use their scale drawing and model to create a full-size dam. Students must include a scale to scale the size of the dam from their drawing, to their model to their full-size dam. The teacher may select any size dam from a table top to an outside larger dam. The materials needed would depend on the size selected but would need to be strong (such as wood).


Students may use the water wheel video link to help them with their pros and cons list.

Students may work with a partner.

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.