BlendEd Seismic Studies Class Shakes Up Learning

by Katie Furlong ’18

This fall, I took a class called Seismic Studies & Earthquake Engineering. The class was a BlendEd class, so it was composed of students from Athenian, Marin Academy, Lick-Wilmerding, Urban, and College Prep. The main benefits of BlendEd classes are that they allow students to work independently and perfect time management skills, as well as meet and work with students and teachers from other Bay Area independent schools. The majority of the class was based online, but there were also a few dates where we met in person, either to have an in-class lesson or to participate in a discussion with engineers who work to design earthquake-proof structures.

Our final project for the class was to build a three-foot tower out of just balsa wood and glue that we would test on the shake table at UC Berkeley. This project was intended to help wrap up everything we had learned about the structural integrity required of buildings needed to survive an earthquake.

We first tested our towers with two earthquakes that are programmed into the shake table: the 1995 Kobe earthquake (Magnitude 6.9) and the 1994 Northridge earthquake (Magnitude 6.7). My tower survived the replications of both the Kobe earthquake and the Northridge earthquake.

After, we were able to design our own earthquakes to test our buildings by changing the amplitude and frequency of the seismic waves. While I was subjecting my building to an earthquake of my own design, I saw weeks of hard work shatter right in front of my eyes. Despite the demise of my tower, I thought this project was a great way to put into action everything we had learned in the class and it made it more memorable than just taking a test to finish off a semester of hard work. I can certainly say that it was one of the best demonstrations of Athenian’s commitment to hands-on and experiential education that I’ve experienced throughout my four years here.