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Scale Models

Objective

Use a particular scale to make a model of a large object.

Materials

Newspaper, cardstock, scissors, glue, tape, balsa wood, craft sticks, plastic building blocks, or other materials suitable for creating a model, graph paper, rulers.

Background

Architects and engineers use scale models to represent large buildings and structures so that others can see what a finished project will look like. Scales are commonly expressed as a ratio like 1:n; every inch in the model represents n inches in real life. The scale can be different depending on the object being modeled. A scale of 1:650 is commonly used for models of large buildings, while the Miniature Railroad & Village® at Carnegie Science Center is built to a 1:48 scale.

Procedure

Select an object to model with your students. The object can be something as complicated as a skyscraper or as simple as a cube. Measure the real object (or look up the specifications for famous buildings online) and calculate how big the model will be. A tower that stands 1,000' tall in real life will be about 1.5' tall as a 1:650 scale model.

An easy project for a student to start with is making a scale model of their bedroom. Measuring the dimensions of their room, bed, and other furniture is done at home. Sketch the bedroom on graph paper using a one inch to one foot, or 1:12, scale, and then build it. Make the model without a ceiling so you can see the contents of the room.

Discussion/Extensions

  • Younger students can make models out of Lego bricks or other common building sets. You can even use the model sets to make vehicles, castles, and many other structures.
  • Scale models can also be used to represent objects that are too small to be observed or interacted with, like cells.
  • Building a scale model can be used to reinforce lessons taught in other classes. You can make a scale model of the pyramids during a unit on ancient Egypt, models of cells can correspond with lessons in biology, and so on.


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