Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
BUILDING BIG
Bridges
Domes
Skyscrapers
Dams
Tunnels
Buy the DVD
Spacer image with 5 links within the image
The Educators Guide
How to use this guide
Program Descriptions
Planning Ideas
To Activities
Additional Resources
Buy the Video
  Activity: Geodesic Dome
Activities Index | Handout | Educator Ideas  

Time
60–90 minutes
(depending on number of participants)

Materials
(for the whole group)
• many newspapers
• measuring tape
• masking tape (colored, if possible)
• markers, glitter, beads, and glue for decorating, if desired
• hand wipes for cleanup

Video Connection
Before the activity, show "Geodesic Domes" from Domes to introduce domes constructed from triangles. (See the Program Description to locate the show segment.)  

See Dome Overview.

For more information, see Additional Resources.

Icebreaker
• Have kids form domes by bending a few sheets of newspaper into a bowl shape. They will quickly note that the domes cannot support much of a live load. Then show kids the video segment suggested above or pictures of geodesic domes (such as Epcot Center in Orlando). Ask: What shapes do you notice in these domes? Why do you think these shapes were used? (Triangles; they are a stable shape because compression acting at one joint is balanced by tension along the opposite side.)  Illustration of dome constructed from toothpicks and gum drops.
• Have kids build miniature geodesic domes using gumdrops and toothpicks. Let them experiment on their own or direct them to build the model shown here.

Lead the Activity
• Rolling the newspapers and measuring the tubes is time-consuming. This activity works best with large groups, so that each kid is only rolling a few tubes. Assign at least one adult "foreperson" to coordinate the dome assembly. Have kids decorate their tubes and attach them to the growing dome with an adult's help. 
• The dome's joints are weak spots. Use plenty of tape to reinforce them. 
• For safety, remind kids not to climb on the completed dome. Test the dome's strength by loading the top with magazines.

The Big Idea

Illustration of geodesic dome showing directions of tension and compression forces. A dome must support its own dead load as well as the live load of wind, rain, snow, or ice. The geodesic dome's strength is due to the fact that triangles are very stable shapes. It is difficult to distort a triangle; compression at one joint is balanced by tension along the opposite side (see Straw Shape). The geodesic dome's design distributes loads over all of the different triangles that comprise it.

Build on It
Possible outcome: Kids may add tension rings around the bottom of the dome or divide some or all of the triangular panels into smaller triangles.

Make Connections
Math Triangles are a shape that can be tesselated, or arranged to form a tiling pattern. Have kids predict what other shapes can be tesselated (hexagons, squares). Kids can cut the shapes out of paper and test their predictions.  

BUILDING BIG Home Page BUILDING BIG Site Map BUILDING BIG Labs BUILDING BIG Databank BUILDING BIG Glossary