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Have you ever gone past a construction site or driven over a bridge and noticed that the supporting beams in a structure can be designed with a variety of cross-sectional shapes? In this activity, you will explore how changing the cross section of a beam affects the amount of deflection (or “bendiness”) a beam exhibits under a load. Your goal is to develop a model that will allow you to predict the relative deflection of a center-loaded beam supported on both ends based on its cross section shape.


  • Students will engage in an inquiry activity to develop a model based on observations (of their own devising) from the physical world.
  • Students will understand the factors that affect the deflection of a center-loaded beam, supported on both ends, with identical volume and mass of material, but with varied cross-sections.
  • Students will construct a model representing the relationship of the factors related to cross-section shape affecting the deflection of center-loaded beams.

Sensors and Equipment

This experiment features the following sensors and equipment. Additional equipment may be required.

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This experiment is #2 of Materials Testing: Beams to Bridges with Go Direct® Structures & Materials Tester. The experiment in the book includes student instructions as well as instructor information for set up, helpful hints, and sample graphs and data.

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