Week 40: Tensegrities

In math we find balance and equilibrium. We balance equations. We keep balance by using properties of identity (multiply by 1 or add zero), Properties of Equality (mirroring operations), and by using the many other ways to manipulate and play with structures in math.

This week’s math is about equilibrium through building tensegrities (see photo above). Buckminster Fuller coined the term “Tensegrity” by combining “tensional” and “integrity.” He described the structure as, “Islands of compression in an ocean of tension.”

For this week’s activity, grab building toys, hot glue and sticks, or straws and string to create tensegrities. Learners can work on the simple design in the photo above, or on polyhedrons, bridges, sculptures, and more. Some challenging shapes would be polyhedral structures or towers. The goal is to create a structure that uses the tension of strings and the weight of the objects in positions that reach equilibrium.

For high school or middle school students, force diagrams may be a fun activity as well. Think about the moments and forces that balance in each structure created. There is a great “Beyond the Brick” video here. For strings at angles, there are some great trigonometry applications to play with.