Clay Beams and Columns

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In this activity, learners make or use pre-made clay beams to scale and proportion. Specifically, they discover that when you scale up proportionally (i.e. keep things the same shape but change the size) weight increases faster than strength. This resource guide contains instructions on how to build beam molds and clay beams, demonstration and inquiry ideas, background information, discussion questions and extensions. This activity works well as a demonstration but it can also extend into inquiry by using the proportional clay beams formed in the beam models as the raw material for investigation.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 4 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 2 pounds or more of plasticene (modeling clay)
  • Butter knife, steel rule, wire or dental floss for cutting clay
  • Ruler
  • Paper to work on
  • 3-foot 1-by-6 pine or fir or 3/4-inch plywood
  • 6-foot 1/4-inch-by-1/2-inch screen mold or 1/4-inch plywood
  • 4-foot 1-inch-by-1-inch pine square molding
  • 2-foot 1/4-inch-by-1/2-inch screen molding
  • 8-12 finishing nails (3/4-inch long)
  • Saw
  • Hammer


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Architectural Engineering
      • Civil Engineering
      • Mechanical Engineering
    • Technology
      • Construction
  • Mathematics
    • Geometry
      • Solid Geometry
    • Measurement
      • Units of Measurement
      • Size and Scale
      • Rate
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
  • Physical Sciences
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Mass and Weight
      • Volume and Density
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Arts and Crafts
  • Model Building


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • Science After School Consumer's Guide


Funding Source:

  • Unisys