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General Card #2747
You're Hired! Three Activities for a Construction Materials Course
Updated: 9/21/2022 10:16 AM by Becky Benishek
Reviewed: 10/17/2022 8:46 AM by Becky Benishek
Three activities for a Construction Materials course that focus on fostering EM by a three-C's approach

At Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), CE3026 is a standard “Materials of Construction” laboratory course for Civil Engineering students. Historically, the course has focused on building teamwork skills; technical writing in the form of lab reports; and the basics of materials science of aggregate, concrete, metal, wood, and polymers. The laboratory experiences are usually the same as every other course in the world: a lot of compression tests, and a lot of bored-looking students.

In 2019 an active learning module was implemented that was well received. (The module is available as a KEEN Card under the name “How to Steal a River”.)

One student, in their end of term course evaluation, stated “I wish all of the labs could be like [How To Steal a River].” Frankly, this bothered me, because it showed that I was capable of developing interesting, exciting, unconventional lab activities, but I just hadn’t done it. During the pandemic due to social distancing restrictions on campus, students attending remotely, etc. it was going to be logistically impossible to even enter the lab, much less to run the standard laboratory tests – the course had to be offered entirely online, which meant I had to come up with replacement assignments.

In CE3026, students are assigned to teams of four, however, smaller/larger teams would work, depending on a user’s specific circumstances. Although delivered remotely in 2021, they could easily be used as in-person, in-class exercises. All the information needed for the modules can be found in this Card, including relevant grading rubrics and supplementary information. A written report is the primary instrument for evaluating student attainment of learning outcomes, which are specified for each individual activity.

The modules are extremely flexible, and can be adapted to whatever content a user wishes. They are also focused on the village of Worcester, where WPI is located, with references to local historical personages such as William and Wallace Tilinghast and locations such as Institute Park (a rapidly siltifying swamp next to WPI’s campus). Users are encouraged to alter the modules to incorporate their own local flavor.

Please note that two other modules are used in this course: 

1) A teamwork module (team charters, asset charts, etc.) that I have not included here as it is not entirely relevant to civil engineering, and;

2) The aforementioned "How To Steal A River" available here:


  • Demonstrate constant curiosity about our changing world
  • Explore a contrarian view of accepted solution
  • Integrate information from many sources to gain insight
Creating Value
  • Identify unexpected opportunities to create extraordinary value
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