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The Educators Guide
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The Local Wonders feature encourages groups of students from around the country to investigate big structures in their local communities and write up their findings.  
See tips below for more details on leading your group in a Local Wonder investigation. You can also check out a sample Local Wonders investigation to see how the process worked for a group of fifth- and sixth-grades in Massachusetts. 
Although your community may not have an Eiffel Tower or a Hoover Dam, it is sure to have many structures with interesting stories. Local Wonders is a fun way for kids to discover the relevance of civil engineering to their daily lives. Over a two- to four-week period, kids work with an engineer to select and investigate an interesting local structure. (See the Activity Planning Grid for a suggested schedule of activities.)  

E-mail the American Society of Civil Engineers at to get your group hooked up with a volunteer civil engineer!
After collecting answers to their questions about the structure, the kids write up their Local Wonder.  

1 Choose your Local Wonder.  
Any structure that your group finds significant because of its appearance, uniqueness, or historical or social impact can be a Local Wonder. Consider local bridges, tunnels, skyscrapers or other buildings, domes, dams, and other constructions. Have the kids brainstorm a list, take a bus tour around town for ideas, or collect some photographs to stimulate discussion.  

"After building Newspaper Towers and talking about structures and foundations, 5th and 6th graders at the Watertown, Massachusetts Boys & Girls Club brainstormed a list of interesting structures in our town: one girl's 10-story apartment building; an elementary school with a recent addition; a new parking garage; and more. We voted and agreed on St. Patrick's, an elaborate church across the street from the clubhouse."  

2 Identify questions to guide the investigation.  
Have the kids generate a list of questions about the Local Wonder. If they have trouble brainstorming, suggest a few of the following questions to spark ideas:  
Engineering focus
  • When was it built? How long did construction take?
  • Who built it? How many people were needed? What is it made of? Why did the builders choose that material?
  • Why is it shaped the way it is?
  • What holds it up/keeps it from falling down?
  • How was it built? Were there any problems during construction? How were they solved?
Social/environmental impact focus 
  • Why was it built? How did the builders decide where to build it?
  • How much did it cost to build? Where did the money come from?
  • How is the structure important to the community?
  • What did the area look like before it was built? How did it change the area around it?
  • Has it had any unexpected effects on the community?
"We brainstormed a list of 12 questions, including 'How did they decide where to build it?'; 'Why did they use arches?'; 'What is the meaning of the stained glass?'; and 'What's underneath the building?'"  

3 Investigate the Local Wonder.  
You may want to begin with some hands-on activities that explore basic engineering principles such as forces, compression, tension, shape, and torsion. As a group, design a research plan to investigate the Local Wonder.  
Your plan might include
  • touring the structure (be sure to take a photo or make some drawings for your Web site submittal);
  • researching the structure at a library, historical society, or newspaper;
  • interviewing engineers, architects, or contractors who worked on the structure;
  • visiting the municipal planning office, engineer, building inspector, or public works department;
  • interviewing long-time community residents about their memories about the structure; and
  • surveying community members about their current opinions on the structure.
"At the library, we found a book about Watertown's history that told the story of when and why St. Patrick's was built. The Historical Society had some photographs of what the church looked like at different times in its history. We visited the Watertown Building Inspector's office and got the building's plans and copies of its renovation permits. Then we took a tour of the building and asked questions. Afterwards, we used all the information to make a timeline about the building's history."  

4 Share it.  
Once your group completes its investigation, it's time to write up your Local Wonder. Print the Local Wonders Writeup Directions, which will guide you in the process of writing up your Local Wonder.  
If possible, you should include photographs or original drawings of your Local Wonder as part of your submission. Take photos of your Local Wonder, or draw the structure from a variety of perspectives: looking directly at it, looking down on or up at it, imagining what the inside looks like.  
Now, create a display for your Local Wonder. You could post your writeup and art on poster board or the wall at your school or program. Your local library might even display it. Invite friends and family to see your Local Wonder. You could even give a presentation about it.  

Estimating Size  
Here's one way to estimate the size of a large structure. Measure a friend's height. Have your friend stand next to the structure, while you stand a little distance away (across the street, for instance). Close one eye and use your fingers to "stack" your friend's height until you reach the top of the structure. Multiply the number of times you stacked your friend by his or height to estimate the total height of the structure.  
Check out the Helpful Hints page for more tips on how to measure the size of different types of structures.