BOSS Model: Building Oscillation Seismic Simulation

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration), Chris Hedeen (Oregon City High School), and ANGLE Project


Building Oscillation Seismic Simulation, or BOSS Model, is an opportunity for learners to explore the phenomenon of resonance for different building heights while performing a scientific experiment that employs mathematical skills. They experience how structures behave dynamically during an earthquake.



This activity could be done with introductory learners in secondary school or even early college. Can be used in conjunction with a Earth science unit or as a practical example of engineering design in an engineering or physical science unit. It can also work for informal education or public outreach venues as a demonstration or interactive.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Learners should know what earthquakes are.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity can largely stand alone once learners know what earthquakes are. However in a larger unit on earthquakes it should probably come later when the topic moves from understanding what earthquakes are to how they affect our society and address steps we can take to mitigate earthquake risk. Works well in conjunction with Build a Better Wall and Base Isolation for Earthquake Resistance.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Learners will be able to:
  • Predict how a structure will react to vibrations (oscillations) of different frequencies.
  • Describe the phenomenon of resonance.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Perform an experiment to establish the relationship between the height of a structure and its natural frequency.

Other skills goals for this activity

  • Working in groups
  • Using physical models
  • Recording measurements, averaging, and graphing.

Description and Teaching Materials

See attached file for educator notes, NGSS alignment, links to supporting resources, and student exercise.
BOSS Model: Building Oscillation Seismic Simulation Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 1.7MB May20 18)

Teaching Notes and Tips

There are several different ways to build a BOSS Model. See above educator notes.


The student worksheet, if used, serves as the summative assessment for the activity. In that case the instructor should develop a simple couple-point scheme for grading the open-ended questions. However, some instructors may choose to just use this activity as a less formal activity. If that is the case or if one is working with an informal audience, learner understanding can be gathered from questions to and discussions with small groups or the whole group.

References and Resources