Social Studies + STEM = Aqueducts Rebuilt!

As a social studies teacher, the importance of SONY DSCintegrating social studies into STEM seems all to obvious. Science, technology,
engineering and mathematics are all critical components of scientific research and development. These are all important elements in their own right, but together they create a larger picture for student to learn and grow from. That picture, I would argue, is in black and white without the color that the human story brings to STEM. To that end, I have tried this year to integrate STEM into my world history class. My earlier post, engineering day in history, was the beginning of this journey. My latest STEM+ SS simulation was building a replica of the Roman aqueducts.


Starting Setup: 

SONY DSCTeaching in the traditional 45 minute periods makes integrated STEM simulations hard. Flipping my directions and lecture the night before helps to capture more class time. Students come ready for the simulation armed with background knowledge and directions for the STEM project. This project, students constructed a new aqueduct system for Rome. There were several factors they had to keep in mind. First, aqueducts must have a slow gradient from the source to the destination. Second, students had to deal with changing elevation. The source of water for the aqueduct was the Apennines Mountain range. As their aqueduct approached the city, students had to deal with hilly country side. Their destination, the Palatine hill, in the heart of Rome.

Each group was given 20 gold beads to spend on different color marble to use in their structure on Palatine hill. As a group they had to decide how to best uses the resources given to them. As emperor, the cost of the aqueduct falls to me. I watched as students balanced between design, ascetics, time, and cost of the project. Each group started with 20 gold, 280 stone blocks, and abundance of talent. Working with their teams, they set out to overcome these challenges and deliver the water to the people of Rome and the Palatine hill.

Building Begins: 

SONY DSCStudents came  ready to build. Each team dove into their box-O-blocks and started to trouble shoot this activity. The level of collaboration was off the charts. They engaged and worked together to solve the ancient engineering marvel of the Aqueducts. Kids built, rebuilt, and rebuilt again their aqueducts. The biggest challenge was figuring out the correct gradient that would gently slope down from the mountains to the hills of Rome. Each of my groups throughout the day solved these challenges in their own creative way. The challenge for students was to construct this in one class period.

In addition to building the aqueducts students were also asked to build a structure of their choosing on the Palatine hill. What would they choose? This is one of my favorite parts of this STEM + SS activity. The human element was present throughout. Students had learned that Rome without the fresh water lost 90% of their population. Their new Aqueduct important as well as impressive. The water carried by the aqueduct was used on Palatine hill for something great. Students built wonderful temples to the gods, constructed classic Roman bath houses, and with the eye of an artist produced lavish fountains with works of art adorning them.

At the end of class, we discussed the cost of their projects, how many blocks it took and what they constructed at on Palatine hill. SONY DSCStudents to great pride in their accomplishment. Lastly we tested the water systems by rolling marbles down the aqueducts. Putting their designs to the test. Students cheered while each groups aqueduct was tested. Some failed, some over build, and some were just amazing. This is a lesson I plan on doing each year. I see areas where I can make even greater connections to STEM and will work to bring those aspects in next year.


Engineering the End: 

In the end, I am not sure who loved the lesson more, me or the students. Reading through their posts it was clear that students had connected what they learned to the content while having a great time. By incorporating STEM into the lesson students see life as it really is, messy. School compartmentalizes learning by subjects, while life demands what we know all at once. Giving students opportunities to apply multiple skills in one lesson is not only challenging but realistic. Including social studies in STEM has been a neat endeavor this year for me and my students, and making  lessons richer and students of all talents engaged.  Think about adding STEM to your classroom, no matter what you teach!






  1. Hi there! I have wooden blocks, train tracks, marbles, and Lincoln logs sitting by my door.. but I wonder: do you have a formal (or semi-formal) lesson plan for this, by chance?

  2. I was wondering the same thing. How do we get the supplies needed? Where do we start? Is there a STEM book we need?

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