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The Ups And Downs Of TechnologyThe-Ups-And-Downs-Of-Technology

  • Subject: Physical Science
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Three class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will
  • discuss groundbreaking features, problems, and solutions behind the Citicorp Center in New York City;
  • draw a picture of famous landmark skyscrapers from the past century and explain its materials and technology; and
  • create a visual timeline of the history of skyscrapers.


  • Computer with Internet access
  • Print resources about the history of skyscrapers
  • Yardstick
  • Materials to draw and cut out a scaled representation of a skyscraper (poster board, markers, paint, colored pencils, scissors)
  • Large index cards


  1. With the class, review facts students learned about the Citicorp Building. Following are a few questions to guide the discussion:


    • What was the first challenge architects faced when designing the skyscraper? What was the solution? (They had to leave room for a church on the corner of the block. They bought the air rights directly above it and built the skyscraper on stilts to leave room for the church.)
    • What natural element presented a challenge for engineers to solve before the skyscraper was finished? What was their solution? (The wind made the building sway more than a typical building.. They added a Tune Mass Damper, a four hundred-ton block of concrete in the top of the building that worked like a giant shock absorber.)
    • What did the engineer Bill LeMessurier discover after the building was finished? What was the solution? (A heavy wind could break the building in half. Weak joints were strengthened by welding steel plates over them.)


  2. Ask students to name other well-known skyscrapers and their locations. Answers may include the Empire State Building in New York and the Sears Tower in Chicago. What makes a skyscraper unique? (Its design and height, the building materials) Why do people build skyscrapers? (To provide a lot of room for offices or homes on a relatively small space. To create a powerful, beautiful symbol or landmark for the city.) Over the past century, how have architects and engineers been able to design taller buildings? (They use new materials and building methods.)
  3. Explain that the class is going to explore skyscrapers built in the past 120 years, and students will develop a visual timeline of well-known skyscrapers. They will work with a partner to research a skyscraper and record important facts about the building. Then they will draw and cut out an image of the building using the scale: 1 inch = 50 feet. Finally, their images and fact cards will be placed along a timeline to show the gradual progression of skyscrapers.
  4. Next, assign pairs of students to one of the following skyscrapers:


    • Home Insurance Building (Chicago, Illinois)
    • World Building (New York, New York)
    • The Masonic Temple (Chicago, Illinois)
    • Manhattan Life Insurance Building (New York)
    • Flatiron Building (New York)
    • Singer Building (New York)
    • Metropolitan Life Tower (New York)
    • Woolworth Building (New York, New York)
    • Chrysler Building (New York, New York)
    • Empire State Building (New York, New York)
    • Seagram Building (New York)
    • John Hancock Center (Chicago, Illinois)
    • World Trade Center (New York, New York)
    • Sears Tower (Chicago, Illinois)
    • Citicorp Center (New York, New York)
    • First Interstate World Center (Library Tower) (Los Angeles, California)
    • Petronas Towers (Malaysia)


  5. Give tell students that they should research their skyscraper and gather the information below. Encourage students to print out or sketch pictures of their skyscraper to help with their final drawing.


    • Name
    • Location (city, state, country)
    • Height (in feet)
    • Date completed (and demolished if applicable)
    • Engineer or architect
    • Primary materials
    • What made it unique from previous skyscrapers (design, materials, building methods, technology)
    • Engineering challenges and solutions


  6. Have students use print and online resources. The following Web sites may be helpful:

    Building Big: All About Skyscrapers

    World's Tallest Skyscrapers

    Great Buildings: Skyscrapers

    Skyscraper Page (great drawings; see Evolution of Skyscraper)

  7. Once students have completed their research, give them a full class period to record their findings on a large index card (fact card) and create a visual representation of their skyscraper.
  8. Create a timeline along a bulletin board. Have students pin their skyscraper images and fact cards along the timeline. Ask partners to take turns presenting facts about their building.
  9. Conclude with a class discussion about buildings of the future. What do students think the greatest challenges will be? How do they envision skyscrapers of the future?

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points: Students recalled many facts from the video during class discussion, created an accurate, correctly scaled drawing of their assigned skyscraper with several details; fact cards included all required information.
  • Two points: Students recalled some facts from the video during class discussions, created mostly accurate, drawing of their skyscraper that is close to scale and shows some detail; fact cards included most of the required information.
  • One point: Students recalled few or no facts from the video during class discussions, created an inaccurate drawing of their skyscraper that is incorrectly scaled and shows little or no detail; fact cards included little or none of the required information.

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  • Roller Coaster Physics: Divide the class into groups. Assign each group one force: gravity, potential energy, kinetic energy, speed, inertia, or momentum. Have groups explain to the rest of the class how each force is used in roller coaster design. Encourage students to draw a picture or show examples from actual roller coasters.
  • Planet Electric: Discuss drawbacks of using fossil fuels to generate electricity. Why are they called nonrenewable resources? Have students explore renewable resources, such as hydroelectric power, solar power, wind energy, and geothermal energy. How do these sources generate electricity? Where are these sources being used efficiently? Why aren't they more common?
  • Constant Motion: With a class, discuss the forces covered in the video (gravity, acceleration, counterforce, friction, air resistance, forward force, upward force, and downward force). How did these forces apply to bike riding and parachuting? Ask students to choose another sport or activity (such as sledding or roller blading) and describe how it is influenced by some of these same forces.

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DefinitionA designer of buildings or other large structures
ContextThe architect designed the skyscraper as a landmark for the city.

DefinitionA person who oversees the design, planning, and construction of a structure such as a skyscraper
ContextThe engineer was hired to solve the structural challenges presented by the unusual design.

DefinitionThe front side or face of a building
ContextThe fa?ade of the Petronas Towers is designed to look like the towers of a temple.

DefinitionA part of a building that is usually below ground
ContextThe foundation of a skyscraper supports and distributes the weight of the building.

DefinitionA very tall building
ContextNo longer standing, the Home Insurance Building in Chicago was considered the first skyscraper.

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The National Science Education Standards provide guidelines for teaching science as well as a coherent vision of what it means to be scientifically literate for students in grades K-12. To view the standards, visit
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:
  • Science and Technology: Abilities of technological design; Understandings about science and technology

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Joy Brewster, curriculum writer, editor, and consultant

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