Design Solutions - Engage, Explore

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SWBAT illustrate and write out notes for a plan (or several plans) to mitigate the effects of a local weather hazard.

Big Idea

Students employ their creativity to solving a real-world problem that affects their community!


12 minutes

If you have not already done so, this is the time to share some local news clips or (previewed!) Youtube clips that demonstrate the power of your local weather hazard.  I let students know that they will be designing a solution to solve the problems faced by this weather hazard.

I use local footage of flash floods in our area as much as possible, so here is another video of flooding in the Sonoran Desert!

I have my students focus on how to design a solution for people trapped on a divided highway from which they cannot exit.  This presents them with a design challenge, instead of a safety message.  If drivers encounter flooded washes crossing the road in front of them, they need to avoid driving through them.  That's a safety issue.  The highway problem is an engineering task.  

I still show them at least one of the following video clips to demonstrate the power of flash floods because the clip I have of a flood coming down a highway in Phoenix is shot from a helicopter and it's difficult for the students to understand the power and speed of the water when it's seen from that altitude.

If I lived somewhere else, I would approach this lesson the same way and would obtain footage about a more relevant hazard (blizzard, hurricane).  Then again, it's a great way to learn about different parts of the country!  So here are three flash flood videos.  I strongly urge you not to let students search for weather hazard videos on their own.  If flash floods are any indication, videographers of extreme weather tend to use a lot of inappropriate language!








52 minutes

In this part of the lesson, students are involved in drawing about and discussing their initial idea for their solution to the weather hazard (flash flood).  I give them the freedom to work in a manner of their own choosing. Some of them draw and make diagrams for a major part of the activity period, others write notes and draw, and some write out their ideas in narrative form and almost all of them discuss what they are working on with their classmates as they are thinking it through.  It is easy to keep them on task during this lesson because they are extremely interested in the topic. 

My science and ELA teacher role in this part of the lesson is to:

  • observe students working together
  • prompt them in the use of specific language (“bridge” instead of “thing”, “on the right side” instead of “like, over there”).
  • prompt them to question and answer each other in complete sentences, when appropriate.
  • support positive dialogue and general good manners for discourse.
  • ask probing questions in the event that they are getting off track or need support in generating more ideas.

 My expectations for the students are that they:

  • allow themselves and others to be creative, within the confines of the activity. 

Note: That is a very subjective judgment call and as such, it is teacher and activity specific.  For example, I “allowed” buttons that could inflate to the size of a tiny boat but I didn’t allow helicopter rescues or flying cars.

  • think of several plans and possible strengths, weaknesses, and “unknowns”
  • discuss ideas with one another with respect and an open-mind


They need to be prepared to make an informal presentation of their idea to their peers so that they can be better prepared to write up their plan.  Here is an example of what one of their informal presentations looks like: