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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Gingerbread Overload

Ready for a creative (and tasty) activity your whole family will love? Design and build a gingerbread house — or use one you already have — and follow the steps below to see what it takes to make it crumble!


Materials Needed

  • Gingerbread house or other structure
  • Pencil and paper


Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Write down a list of as many structural loads as you can identify. These are forces such as heavy rain or snow, high winds or earthquakes that can cause stress on a building or other structure.
  2. Think about how you might recreate each type of structural load to test the strength of your gingerbread house.
  3. Look over your gingerbread house or structure and note any areas where there might be a weakness. Make predictions about what forces might cause the structure to crumble.
  4. Test your predictions by using your structural load recreations.
    • Could you place your house on a board or small table and shake the table to recreate an earthquake?
    • Might you drop chunks of playing dough on it to simulate hail?
    • If you squirt it with water, how long does it take for the structure to begin sagging?
    • How many objects can you stack on it before it crumbles, and how much do all the objects weigh?
  5. Write down all your observations, notes and data for your tests.
  6. Now, challenge yourself to build a new structure that can withstand one of your tests.
    • What different materials might you use?
    • How might you change the shape of the structure?
    • Where could you include reinforcements?


What Are We Discovering?

Structural loads are forces applied to a structure or its components. Excess loads, or overloading, can cause structural failure.

National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee James Bogardus helped to advance American architecture by constructing buildings that were strong and easy to assemble, while still be being aesthetically pleasing. While traveling abroad, Bogardus learned of new uses for cast iron as a building material. Using iron, his buildings allowed for larger windows because less of the surface area had to be devoted to load-bearing supports. This material also allowed for the buildings to be taller because of the strength of the iron frames. Inventors often push their designs to the limit and try to break them in order to find out where they might have a weakness. They then can use this knowledge to make their designs stronger, safer and more innovative.


Looking for More STEM Fun?

Thousands of children across the country have engaged in easy, at-home fun with our Innovation Exploration Kits. Each kit offers tons of materials for endless exploration and creativity, delivered right to your door. To learn more, check out our website!

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