Sample Design Challenges


The following challenges are not necessarily grade specific.  Please modify to meet the needs of you and your students.


Design a mechanism that uses 2 levers to lift a load (eraser) efficiently.

Robotic Arm

Your engineering supervisor has a task for you.  She needs a new robotic arm that is able to extend to pick up rocks that are 15 m away.

You have been asked to make a 1/10th size model of an arm that will do the job.

Your model will be able to pick up an eraser that is 1.5 m away from you and release it into a bin that is 0.5 m away from you.

You have been given the following materials and tools to complete your challenge:

Materials                              Tools

-paper fasteners                   -heavy duty hole punch

-popsicle sticks                     -ruler

-elastics                                  -glue gun and sticks

-plastic straws                       -pencil

-30 cm masking tape

-string or strong thread

Energy Efficient

Many schools have portable classrooms.  The modern portables are much more energy efficient than the old ones were.  If we really try, we can make them even better.

Work with one of your classmates to think about ways a portable classroom could be energy efficient.  Consider lighting, heating, and cooling.

Work together to draw a picture of “The Portable of the Future”.  Show the outside and also show the inside by having part of the wall, ceiling, and floor cut away.  Try to design your portable so that it is a comfortable place to learn but also a place that does not use too much energy.

Space Engineers

When people went to the moon, engineers designed a special vehicle for traveling on the moon’s surface.  They had to consider the force of gravity on the moon, the nature of the moon’s surface, and the gravitational force of the moon.

Imagine that you have a chance to travel to another planet.  Choose the planet that you would like to visit.  Gather information about that planet and use it to design a vehicle for exploring the planet.

Draw a picture of your vehicle and describe its special features.  Explain why your vehicle will work well on the planet you have chosen.

Guiding Student Reflection

Use questions such as these to guide students as they think about the work they have done in completing a challenge:

  • Why did you choose this design? Explain your ideas in your journal.  Be sure to use the vocabulary that you have just learned.
  • How well were you able to communicate and share your ideas?
  • How do your ideas compare with the ideas of others in your class?
  • Did your device work as expected?
  • What problems did you encounter? How can you correct these problems?
  • What did you find challenging?
  • How do your measurements compare to the measurements of others?
  • Record your thoughts in your science and technology journal.
  • How well did your design work on your first attempt? What improvements can you/your group make to overcome any difficulties?  Record and sketch your ideas.
  • How well did your team members work together? How did you resolve differences of opinion?
  • How might you approach the task differently if you were starting over?
  • How successful was your design? If you had a choice of alternate materials, what would you have rather used?  How would materials make a difference?

Les Asselstine

How do pregnancy tests work?

Over-the-counter pregnancy tests give potentially life-changing results with a pretty high rate of accuracy. But how do they work? Tien Nguyen explains how each test performs a scientifically rigorous, multi-stage experiment that goes from start to finish in the time that it’ll take you to watch this video.

Lesson by Tien Nguyen, animation by Andrew Foerster.

As the Worm Turns……



Many factors affect the type of soil on which living things depend. Soil can be hard or soft, the difference being the amount of space between the soil particles. To retain water and prevent erosion, soil needs to be somewhat compacted. However, if soil is too hard or compacted, water will run off before plants and animals are able to absorb it. The water and air levels become so low that the soil cannot support plant or animal life. Earthworms are particularly valuable to both maintaining good quality soil and enriching poor soil. Worms move through soft soil but ‘eat their way’ through harder soils. In doing so, the soil is aerated, allowing water and air to penetrate. They turn rotting plants and animals into vital fertilizer.

Earthworms are fascinating creatures. They move with tiny bristles along the sides of their body; they are photophobic (do not like light), have one brain and five hearts. Earthworms breathe when oxygen from water or the air passes through its skin. Worms must always live in a moist (not wet) environment or they will dry out or drown. Earthworms can produce their own weight in soil every 24 hours. Earthworms are both male and female. Red wigglers are the worms used in a vermi-composter or ‘worm bin’ because they do not mind ‘crowds’ of other worms. Earthworms do not do well in a vermi-composter because they like to burrow deep into the soil.

Continue reading

The Inverted Glass Harp

By Dan Quinn

A new variation on an old party trick: filling several wine glasses to different heights makes a “glass harp”, so submerging one empty glass in a basin of water is an “inverted glass harp”. It’s not the prettiest sounding instrument, but with enough practice, you could at least amuse your dinner guests. Continue reading